Cathay Pacific is scrubbing most of its January schedule to Australia because of strict pandemic restrictions imposed by the Hong Kong government. The airline will completely suspend flights to Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, while a twice-daily service to Sydney will be slashed to just two weekly flights.
Australia was a relatively safe country for Cathay Pacific to operate flights because of its once low Coronavirus infection rates. But now that Australia has abandoned its zero-COVID strategy on the back of high vaccination rates, it is no longer considered a ‘safe’ country in the eyes of Hong Kong health officials.
As a result, Australia is now a designated Group A country which means returning residents and aircrew must go into quarantine for 21-days.
To skirt aircrew quarantine rules, pilots and cabin crew volunteer to work a ‘closed loop’ system but in recent weeks, Cathay Pacific has struggled to find enough volunteers to operate its planned schedule.
“In light of the ongoing operational and travel restrictions that continue to affect our flight schedules, we are currently in the process of reviewing the number of passenger flights to and from Hong Kong in January 2022,” Cathay Pacific confirmed in a notice posted on its website.
“The new consolidated schedule will result in several flight cancellations,” the statement continued. “We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience to your travel plans, especially during the festive season.”
The ‘Closed Loop’ system involves aircrew working a three-week roster in which they isolate in locked hotel rooms between flights. They are not allowed to go outside and can only leave their rooms in order to go to work. After the three-week roster is complete, they must then quarantine in a hotel room for 21-days.
In November, Cathay Pacific carried just 70,000 passengers – less than 3 per cent of the numbers it carried pre-pandemic in November 2019. The Hong Kong government is relentlessly pursuing a zero-COVID strategy and policy decisions are based on prioritising the border with mainland China.
Last week, the chief executive of Qatar Airways criticised Hong Kong’s policy, saying it was “killing” Cathay Pacific.
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.