Hong Kong is finally loosening pandemic-era restrictions on local pilots and flight attendants which effectively meant they were quarantined in their hotel rooms whenever they left the territory on an overseas work trip.
From Tuesday, local aircrew will be allowed to leave their hotel rooms during foreign layovers according to an internal memo sent by Cathay Pacific to its aircrew and seen by Bloomberg – the first time in more than two years that the virus cautious Chinese territory has allowed such freedoms.
The rule change will see Hong Kong’s local aircrew finally abandon the ‘closed-loop’ lifestyle that was invented in mainland China as a way to keep businesses and events running in a COVID-free bubble.
Under ‘closed-loop’ arrangements, employees can attend work as normal but must isolate themselves from the local population to avoid contagion. One of the most famous examples of a ‘closed-loop’ was this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics when the entire event was completely separated from the outside world.
For aircrew, ‘closed-loop’ working means being allowed to serve hundreds of passengers on a plane but then being expected to lock themselves away in a hotel room.
In recent weeks, Hong Kong’s government has greatly reduced the restrictions that were placed on aircrew. Until recently, pilots and flight attendants were expected to quarantine every time they returned to Hong Kong from overseas and complete a series of invasive COVID-19 tests.
Those restrictions have now been lifted as part of a concerted effort to reinstate Hong Kong’s status as a global aviation hub.
The hope is that more people will be willing to work and fly for local airlines as pandemic-era rules are relaxed, but aircrew are still banned from attending bars and other busy public areas in foreign destinations and COVID-19 testing is still required on arrival.
Cathay Pacific’s chief operations and service delivery director Greg Hughes hailed the relaxation as a “significant milestone” but conceded that it still “falls short of the complete removal of such restrictions on our aircrew”.
Hughes told staffers that the airline was still lobbying the government to remove all remaining pandemic restrictions on aircrew.
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.