Flight attendants normally like to enjoy long layovers in sought-after international destinations, but crew at one airline aren’t getting to enjoy any of their time abroad because they are still being kept in their hotel rooms like it’s early 2020.
The reason is that Hong Kong’s government expects aircrew to comply with onerous ‘closed loop’ protocols when they arrive at their destination. Essentially, that means aircrew must isolate themselves away from the local population by locking themselves in their hotel rooms.
In 2021, Cathay Pacific cabin crew spent a collective 73,000 nights in quarantine – either in closed loop isolation in foreign countries or back in Hong Kong. One thousand crew even spent more than 11,000 nights in the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine camp.
Last week, the Hong Kong government finally lifted quarantine requirements on aircrew who were returning to the territory but only on the proviso that pilots and cabin crew continue to isolate themselves downroute.
In effect, Cathay Pacific cabin crew are still being expected to regularly endure quarantine as the rest of the world moves on from any form of isolation or lockdown.
Cathay Pacific has tried to reduce the amount of time that flight attendants have to quarantine by reducing layover periods, but after a long-haul flight, this doesn’t crew so much time to rest.
Instead, flight attendants say the airline should provide two sets of cabin crew when the layover time has been reduced. One to work the outbound flight and the other to work the return flight. This is especially true for flights to North America where flight times from Hong Kong to New York can go beyond 15 hours.
Of course, what flight attendants really want is the freedom to leave their hotel rooms, but that will require a big change in policy from the Hong Kong government. Sources claim a big announcement is in the works, but nothing has yet been formally confirmed.
Cathay Pacific carried just 253,907 passengers in August and whilst changes to quarantine rules are welcome, the airline has warned that it will take time to build up capacity as pandemic travel restrictions are lifted.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that cabin crew were seeking shorter layovers to minimise the amount of time they spent in hotel quarantine. This was due to a translation error.
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.