A group of British Airways pilots and cabin crew have been imprisoned in a quarantine camp in Hong Kong since Saturday despite all being fully vaccinated and testing negative for COVID-19. British Airways is working with UK diplomats stationed in the Chinese territory in a desperate effort to secure their release and repatriate them back to Britain but there has so far been little sign of Hong Kong officials bending.
The group of aircrew were whisked away to the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine facility on Saturday by hazmat-suited security officers after one of the pilots tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arrival in Hong Kong.
The remaining crew all tested negative for COVID-19 but were immediately classed as ‘close contacts’ and sentenced to a 21-day quarantine order in prison-like conditions at the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp which is capable of holding more than 3,500 detainees.
All aircrew flying to Hong Kong must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and have a negative test before departure. On arrival, crew are swabbed yet again and are held in the airport until their test comes back negative.
Even after double testing, crew members are normally sent to solitary confinement in quarantine hotels before their return flight home which is sometimes not for several days.
The conditions at the Penny’s Bay camp, however, are far worse. Detainees are locked in small spartan rooms with few modern conveniences, no working wi-fi and are given just three meals per day.
Detainees have described being locked behind razor wire fences, topped with spotlights and patrolled by security officers 24-hours a day. Loudspeakers ‘bark’ orders at detainees who are subjected to invasive COVID-19 testing.
The camp made international headlines last week when more than 100 local Cathay Pacific aircrew were designated as ‘potential close contacts’ and despatched to Penny’s Bay. A Dutch pilot for Cathay Pacific who was imprisoned at Penny’s Bay shared an account of her stay in the tiny room.
Video shared on Instagram by the pilot who goes by the username @flywitheva captured her shock by being confronted with two small beds with wafer-thin mattresses which were wrapped in plastic.
The pilot has since updated her Instagram account to say a group of volunteers are offering to get emergency supplies to the British Airways crew currently interned at Penny’s Bay.
British Airways has not confirmed how many crew are being held but the flight is currently being operated by a Boeing 777-300 which would suggest at least 10 cabin crew and three to four pilots have been detained.
In a statement, a spokesperson for British Airways told us: “We’re supporting crew members who are currently isolating in Hong Kong. We work within local regulations for every country we fly to, and always put the safety and wellbeing of our teams and customers at the heart of everything we do.”
British Airways suspended a cabin crew member who was detained at the camp last year after she criticised the brutal conditions on social media.
Earlier this month, a group of nine pilots and cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic were held at the same camp in very similar circumstances after just one pilot tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in the city. Virgin Atlantic eventually secured their release after several days locked away.
Several airlines refuse to fly non-stop routes to Hong Kong because the risk of their crew ending up imprisoned is too high.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.