Cathay Pacific is slashing its already decimated schedule and is suspending all long-haul cargo flights with immediate effect because of even tougher pandemic border restrictions that were imposed on local airlines by the Hong Kong government on Friday.
Hong Kong will herald in the New Year increasingly cut off from the outside world as the Chinese territory desperately tries to keep out the Omicron variant as it doggedly pursues its ‘COVID Zero’ strategy that aligns with the mainland.
The stricter border rules mean there are now no exemptions for local aircrew to bypass hotel quarantine whenever they return to Hong Kong from an international non-mainland destination. Cargo pilots and other crew operating on designated freighter-only flights were previously allowed to isolate at home for three days pending results of mandatory virus tests.
The government scrubbed that exemption after four aircrew tested positive for the virus in the days following their return to the city. One of the crew members infected his father after breaking quarantine to go out for dinner with his family at a busy restaurant. A second local man who was sat at another table was also infected.
The crew member was infected with Omicron, marking the first time the highly transmissible variant has evaded border restrictions and got into Hong Kong. A second infected crew member visited a community testing centre and then immediately went to three bars while infectious.
Community transmission of COVID-19 is incredibly rare in Hong Kong and these latest cases are the first such time that the virus has been detected outside border cases since October.
Hong Kong is now on high alert as it attempts to stamp out the flames of an Omicron outbreak.
After summoning Cathay Pacific chief executive Augustus Tang for a dressing down, the Hong Kong government announced it would require all local aircrew to undergo seven days of mandatory hotel quarantine whenever they return from an international destination.
Cathay Pacific said it had no other option but to suspend cargo flights for at least the next seven days as it tries to secure a dwindling supply of quarantine hotel rooms. The airline must now also convince more crew members to subject themselves to frequent and extended bouts of quarantine under the territory’s ‘closed loop’ working system.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said she expected aircrew to support the territory by continuing to fly for Cathay Pacific but the airline is already reeling from an exodus of expat pilots who can no longer face the constant cycle of quarantine.
In the meantime, the government announced plans for additional charter flights to fight an impending logistics crunch.
“The latest tightening of aircrew quarantine restrictions continues to constrain our ability to operate flights as planned,” Cathay Pacific said in an announcement posted on its website.
“We are making further significant changes to our flight schedule, including cancellations of passenger flights to and from Hong Kong from now to tentatively the first quarter of 2022. We intend to operate a skeleton passenger flight schedule in January.”
An earlier version of this story said the crew members involved were pilots. Cathay Pacific has since clarified that the aircrew involved were cabin crew.
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.
‘Expat’ pilots…you mean immigrant pilots.
You need to get your facts right! “One of the pilots infected his father after breaking quarantine to go out for dinner” is completely false, he was a flight attendant not a pilot.
You need to get your facts right! “One of the pilots infected his father after breaking quarantine to go out for dinner” is completely false, he was a flight attendant not a pilot. And he caught it from another flight attendant, not a pilot. If you’re getting second hand information from the SCMP, then you need to read the articles more clearly. They use the term ‘Aircrew’ when referring to flight attendants, just so people can mistakenly believe they’re talking about pilots. Shambolic and highly misleading information, which leads to false articles such as these.
Hi Stuart, I’m just about to correct this article with the new information that came to light after Cathay Pacific finally put out a public statement about the siutation.
This isn’t new information, it was known on the 28th December he was a flight attendant. And I know that because I’m currently in Penny’s Bay Quarantine Camp because of this very person! It was all over the news the following day that he was a flight attendant (Aircrew), and there’s never been any mention anywhere that he was ever a pilot.
The CHP press release said aircrew, not flight attendant and this has since been clarified. Aircrew is generally understood to mean both pilots and cabin crew. My understanding at the time was that only pilots were granted quarantine exemptions.
You really need to get all your facts correct before publishing articles, especially if you wish to use clickbait titles. Going back and editing your article only after you’ve been called out in the comments is very unprofessional.
CRM between pilots and flight attendants must be great at the moment.
Incorrect reporting. It wasn’t a pilot. It was a local cantonese cabin crew, who worked in business class returning from New York on the 25th December, who broke the rules and met their father at a restaurant and went to the Apple store during their first 3 days after returning to Hong Kong instead of doing home quarantine-thus spreading Omicron.
VERY MISLEADING CLICKBAIT TITLE! It was a local male cabin crew who went to the restaurant and spread the virus. Very poor reporting. Just copied the SCMP articles and rehashed second hand info with clickbait title. You should stay well away from journalism.
“CRM between pilots and flight attendants must be great at the moment”. You still aren’t getting it, and quite clearly don’t understand the repercussions misleading articles such as yours cause for pilots in Hong Kong. And for the record, the solidarity and unity between the pilots and cabin crew is quite probably the strongest its been in a long while, and that’s primarily due the inordinate amount of vilification and finger pointing stemming from the local populous. However, the pilot bashing in Hong Kong is on another level, and we’ve been enemy No.1 from the very beginning. In 2021 alone, there wasn’t a single positive case amongst the pilot group at Cathay for the first 10 months of the year, which amounted to well over 170,000 negative test results. Was there any media coverage on this? Almost none. Did anything change? No! In fact, quite the opposite – more isolation, longer quarantine, more testing, more endless compliance with never-ending bureaucratic ‘fuckwittery’. And despite 170,000 negative tests, the local mafia at the SCMP still managed to churn out their daily doomsday COVID warnings of the ever impending 5th wave, with whichever “expert” of the week still finding a way to dehumanise and chastise pilots.
Catching COVID in Hong Kong is not what it is in Europe or North America – even being a close contact here leads to criminal treatment and enforced imprisonment. As fellow aircrew, you should use your platform to inform the misinformed of the inhumane treatment global aircrew have received in Hong Kong, instead of jumping on the bandwagon throwing us all under the bus just because a handful of crew slipped up. You really should know better.
Stuart, I am doing my best to use my platform to educate and inform an international audience about the situation that aircrew in Hong Kong face. Have a quick search on the website and read some of the stories I have written about the conditions crew face in the territory. However, I try not to be political and instead aim to provide a balanced narrative. That being said, I still try to champion human rights, equality and decent living and working conditions.
I hope this doesn’t sound flippant because I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to better educate me.
I second Stuart’s sentiment. He shouldn’t have to waste his time “educating” you. From your own bio: ‘ 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’. If this statement was true you would have the correct facts before publishing libelous articles with embellished titles.
Let me put it another way – As a training captain, would you refuse to listen to feedback from one of your peers because you are already an expert and have nothing else left to learn? Learning is a lifelong process. You don’t suddenly stop the education process and if someone is willing to share their insight and opinion with me, then that is something I am not going to turn down.