Cathay Pacific is slashing its already limited passenger flight schedules because volunteer cabin crew and pilots are refusing to take on any more quarantine-inducing duties in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year holidays.
Since February, Cathay Pacific has had to rely on volunteer aircrew who are willing to sacrifice living in isolation for more than a month at a time in order to go to work. Crew members working the so-called ‘closed loop’ system only see other human beings when they are operating a flight and must otherwise remain in isolation.
The working portion of the ‘closed loop’ consists of a 21-day stretch that involves a number of flights to and from Hong Kong. Crew members must remain in isolation in their hotel rooms both in Hong Kong and on overseas layovers in between flights.
At the end of the 21-day ‘closed loop’ crew members must then endure a 14-day hotel quarantine period before being released back into the community but still under the supervision of the Hong Kong health department.
Around a third of inbound flights have been axed in December, although flights from Hong Kong won’t be affected. The return flights won’t return with passengers and will instead operate solely to carry cargo.
“Operational and travel restrictions that remain in place continue to constrain our ability to operate flights,” a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific told the SCMP. “We are consolidating our passenger flight schedules for December 2021, including cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong,” a statement from the airline continued.
Flights to the Chinese mainland, as well as Australia, are unaffected because the ‘closed loop’ system doesn’t apply to these flights.
Cathay Pacific carried just 76,430 passengers in October, while capacity was down nearly 90 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Hong Kong has shown no sign of relaxing its strict quarantine rules and border restrictions and has made aircrew rules even tougher in recent days following several positive COVID-19 infections amongst Cathay Pacific cargo pilots.
The territory is prioritising a ‘Zero COVID’ strategy in order to reopen quarantine free travel with the mainland but this strategy has come at the expense of reconnecting Hong Kong with the rest of the world.
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.