Virgin Atlantic hopes a double-testing regimen for all crew operating flights to Hong Kong will be enough to prevent health officials in the Chinese territory from detaining its pilots and cabin crew in a government-controlled quarantine camp.
On Saturday, British Airways temporarily suspended flights to Hong Kong after yet more crew were sent to the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp. One crew member tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival, prompting health officials to detain the entire crew as close contacts.
It is the second time in as many weeks that British Airways pilots and cabin crew have been sent to the quarantine camp en masse. Crew members from Finnair were also detained at the camp in similar circumstances on Sunday, while Virgin Atlantic crew experienced the same fate earlier this month.
The standard quarantine term at the camp is 21-days but diplomats and airlines have normally been able to secure the release of crew members after seven days of internment. The Omicron variant may, however, harden the attitude of Hong Kong authorities and make them less willing to reduce the quarantine length.
To avoid the risk of crew being detained in a quarantine camp, a number of airlines including Emirates and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operate flights to Hong Kong via Bangkok so that crew never have to set foot off the plane in Hong Kong.
But Virgin Atlantic plans to continue operating non-stop flights from London to Hong Kong despite the continued risk of crew being forced into quarantine.
To reduce the risk, though, crew members will now be double tested before being allowed to board a flight to Hong Kong. The first test will be performed the day before the flights, while a second rapid PCR test, will be performed just prior to departure.
British Airways may also restart flights to Hong Kong with a similar policy rather than the fail-safe but more expensive method of adding a technical stop in a third country that doesn’t quarantine crew members.
Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways says it prioritises the health and safety of their crew members.
Earlier this month, nearly 150 Cathay Pacific crew members were detained at the Penny’s Bay camp because they had stayed at the same hotel in Frankfurt that three pilots who later tested positive for COVID-19 had been at.
The pilots were dismissed by Cathay Pacific after they admitted to lying to health officials when it emerged they had left their rooms and met up with locals during their layovers in Germany.
Cathay Pacific is now facing a pilot and crew shortage as staffers either resign or refuse to volunteer for arduous quarantine-inducing duties.
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.