Cathay Pacific has been forced to severely cut its already slim flight schedules from next weekend, following the Hong Kong government’s decision to impose mandatory quarantine requirements on aircrew returning from layovers at an overseas destination.
The new policy, which takes effect from 20th February 2021, has forced the carrier to completely cut all flights to and from nine of its current 27-strong network, including services between Hong Kong and Frankfurt, Perth, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Vancouver.
Edit 11 Feb: Cathay Pacific has also added Tel Aviv and Cebu (from 27th February 2021) to its cancelled routes list, for a total of 11 discontinued cities.
On some other routes, like Amsterdam and Singapore, weekly frequency reductions will take effect.
Revised schedules are currently in effect until the end of February 2021, but are likely to be extended further while these restrictions remain in place.
Edit 11 Feb: Revised schedules have now been extended to the end of the northern winter schedule on 27th March 2021.
The new rules
From 20th February 2021, Hong Kong-based aircrew returning to the city from overseas layovers (outside China) will be required to undergo:
- A “test-and-hold” arrangement (i.e. undergo testing and wait for the result) at Hong Kong International Airport.
- 14 days of hotel quarantine, with an additional test on 12th day following arrival.
- A further 7 days of “medical surveillance” at home, with two tests on 15th and 19th/20th day following arrival.
Before operating another flight again.
“The Government understands the impact on airlines’ and shipping companies’ operations, and that on air crew and sea crew members to be brought about by the new arrangements. Having said that, we would appeal to the industry’s understanding of the need to tighten the relevant exemption conditions, and call for the industry to join our concerted efforts to fight the virus.”Spokesman, Government of Hong Kong SAR
What does it mean for Cathay?
Here’s the impact on Cathay Pacific’s long-haul network:
|Current||From 20 Feb|
|New York JFK||3/wk||3/wk||351|
* London Heathrow to Hong Kong is not available for booking
For Hong Kong – Australia flights in particular, Sydney will now be the only city served (five times per week), with Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth all getting the axe.
Here’s how it looks for the airline’s regional network:
|Current||From 20 Feb|
|Ho Chi Minh||3/wk||Cancelled||359|
* Last Cebu flight 26th February 2021
Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh and Seoul all get the boot here, with Singapore and Bangkok among the cities seeing a frequency reduction, not because crews layover in these cities but presumably because the new policy leads to a general shortage of manpower even considering the airline’s current limited network.
Overall, Cathay Pacific will reduce its weekly passenger flight departures from Hong Kong by 37%, from 86 per week to 54 per week.
Passenger destinations will reduce from 28 cities to 17 (a 39% reduction).
These revised schedules have now been programmed through to the end of March 2021, however assuming no changes to the Hong Kong government’s policy for operating aircrew it’s likely this will become a longer-term schedule.
Meanwhile Cathay Pacific Cargo crew who have laid over in Anchorage, Alaska, will be exempted from the requirements, meaning the airline can retain a higher proportion of its valuable freight business at a time of buoyant demand in that sector.
Compared to the current arrangement for Singapore Airlines crew, this Hong Kong government imposition on Cathay Pacific, and indeed all Hong Kong-based aircrew, seems not just onerous but borderline insane.
Cathay Pacific had previously warned the government in a statement that “The new measure will have a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger and cargo markets”.
It’s hard to see how the airline can operate a significantly expanded schedule over and above these latest cuts either efficiently or effectively, while these tough new rules remain in force.
It will be interesting to see how long this situation can last.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)