Flight attendants at Cathay Pacific claim that passenger safety is being compromised because of onboard staffing cuts that have resulted in crew at the Hong Kong-based carrier serving, on average, more passengers per flight attendant than its regional rivals.
For example, on some Boeing 777 aircraft, the Cathay Pacific flight attendant union claims there is now a crew-to-passenger ratio of 1 to nearly 31, whereas on the same aircraft type, Singapore Airlines has a ratio of 1 crew member to just 17.6 passengers.
The crew-to-passenger ratio is also smaller at Taiwan-based Eva Air and Japan Airlines, according to the flight attendant union. In some cases, the contrast is particularly stark. On Cathay’s Airbus A350 aircraft, there is a ratio of 1 crew member to every 28 passengers, compared to a ratio of 1:21 on the same aircraft at Singapore Airlines.
There are similar comparisons made on Cathay’s Airbus A330 aircraft with a ratio of 1:32, compared to a ratio of one crew member to just 23.6 passengers at Eva Air.
“The change in the company’s policy and measures not only affect cabin crew but also passengers,” the flight attendant union warned at a press conference last week. The union warned this could “impose a risk on flight safety”.
The union was particularly concerned about the inability of cabin crew to observe and monitor passengers due to staffing cutbacks, as well as the added stress of closing heavy overhead lockers.
Having dramatically cut back staffing numbers during the darkest days of the pandemic, Cathay Pacific is now racing to rehire crew and other frontline employees, while also looking at where it can make longer-term cuts.
Just like many airlines have done, Cathay Pacific has cut the number of flight attendants on some aircraft types. A spokesperson for the carrier reassured that the number of cabin crew working on each flight is still above minimum legal requirements that were designed to ensure emergency situations could be handled effectively.
In fact, in a statement, the airline said it was “well resourced for our services onboard. The number of cabin crew onboard our flights is comparable to the market and well above regulatory requirements,” the statement continued.
“There is no safety issue.”
“We have deployed an operating model that best suits our needs with consideration to the regulatory requirements, service propositions, technical configurations, performance systems and more,” a spokesperson added.
The flight attendant has, however, threatened a damaging ‘work to rule’ protest unless a growing list of complaints are quickly addressed. Along with staffing shortages, cabin crew are increasingly upset about the airline’s rostering practices that have left them with little time to rest between flights.
Cathay Pacific says it is listening to these concerns but warned that layover periods and rostering issues can’t be immediately resolved.
The flight attendant union has issued a Chinese New Year ultimatum for improvements to be made, while further talks between the airline and union aren’t now scheduled until February.
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.