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Cathay Pacific axes a third of its routes as aircrew are forced into quarantine

Cathay Pacific pilots and cabin crew returning from overseas layovers will be forced into 21 days of quarantine on their return to Hong Kong, forcing the carrier to slash its flight schedules.

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:

Long-haul routes
City Frequency Acft
Current From 20 Feb
Amsterdam 2/wk   1/wk 351
Auckland 2/wk 2/wk 77W
Brisbane 2/wk   Cancelled 351
Frankfurt 2/wk   Cancelled 351
London Heathrow* 7/wk 7/wk* 351
Los Angeles 4/wk 4/wk 351
Melbourne 4/wk   Cancelled 351
New York JFK 3/wk 3/wk 351
Perth 2/wk   Cancelled 351
San Francisco 3/wk   Cancelled 351
Sydney 5/wk 5/wk 351
Tel Aviv 2/wk   Cancelled 351
Toronto 2/wk 2/wk 351
Vancouver 3/wk   Cancelled 359
Total 43/wk 24/wk  

* 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:

Regional routes
City Frequency Acft
Current From 20 Feb
Bangkok 4/wk   2/wk 359
Beijing 5/wk   4/wk 333
Cebu* 2/wk    Cancelled* 359
Ho Chi Minh 3/wk    Cancelled 359
Jakarta 3/wk 3/wk 359
Kuala Lumpur 2/wk    Cancelled 333
Manila 5/wk 5/wk 359
Osaka Kansai 2/wk 2/wk 351
Seoul 1/wk    Cancelled 359
Shanghai 7/wk 7/wk 333
Singapore 3/wk   2/wk 359
Surabaya 2/wk    1/wk 333
Taipei 4/wk 4/wk 359
Tokyo Narita 3/wk 3/wk 359
Total 43/wk 30/wk  

* 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.

Summary

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”.

Many more Cathay Pacific aircraft will be parked up during March 2021 as a result of these significant schedule cuts. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

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)

4 comments

  1. HK government must evaluate the new rule harder and harder to ensure the aviation business is protected and get support.

    Otherwise, the industry will not survive long.

    1. No.

      The problem that outsiders seem to ignore is that Cathay Pacific had 2019, manifested a cabin crew that was largely made up of Filipino citizens. Asiana Airlines too, was outsourcing FA positions to Filipino citizens as well. Korean Air’s no picture rule, I suppose, is to conceal the fact that most of their crew were outsourced to China. A lot of these Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan carriers actually were facing huge competition pressures from better, more competitive, Southeast Asian airlines, as well as China’s airlines, who were in the mood to invest in hiring professionals.

      Fly Air China from SIN PEK pre COVID19, and you’d find most of the crew are Japanese. Fly China Eastern from SIN PVG pre COVID19 and if you’re a softie for Kpop idols, MU was there to serve drop dead beautiful/ handsome Korean flight attendants.

      So no, not some commie scheme.

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