Ouch: Cathay Pacific Crews Get Brutal New Schedules Due To Quarantine Requirement

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific crews have been asked to volunteer for incredibly unpleasant schedules over the coming months, due to Hong Kong’s new crew quarantine requirement.

Hong Kong’s new crew quarantine requirement

Hong Kong has had one of the strictest testing and quarantine requirements since the start of the pandemic. While air crews have had to get tested frequently, they’ve been exempt from the quarantine requirement. That will finally be changing.

As of February 20, 2021, air crews arriving in Hong Kong (with few exceptions) will be subjected to a 14-day quarantine in a hotel, plus seven days of medical surveillance thereafter.

On the surface I can see both sides here. On the one hand, if you’re trying to basically eliminate any chance of coronavirus being imported then this seems reasonable. On the other hand, even New Zealand doesn’t have such a strict requirement for crews — New Zealand just requires crews to quarantine for two days and then get tested, before being able to resume their lives.

With these new requirements taking effect, it’s interesting to see how airlines are coping with this.

Air crews in Hong Kong will be subjected to a quarantine

Cathay Pacific’s creative crew quarantine solution

Airlines were understandably opposed to this new quarantine requirement. This will not only be costly, but also incredibly challenging logistically.

Per Bloomberg, we now have an idea of how Cathay Pacific will handle this new crew quarantine requirement. Crews have been asked to volunteer to work 49 day cycles. Here’s how this will work:

  • Crews will work for 21 days straight, and any nights they spend in Hong Kong will be at Cathay Pacific’s own Headland Hotel
  • Crews will then have to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel in Hong Kong
  • Crews will then get 14 days off, the first seven days of which they’ll have to spend under medical surveillance

Cathay Pacific crews will start working 21 days straight

In other words, crews will be flying and quarantining for a total of five weeks, and will then get two weeks off, one week of which will be under medical surveillance. Cathay Pacific has allegedly gotten enough employees to volunteer for this, rough as the arrangement sounds, especially for those with families.

What happens to crews that didn’t volunteer for this arrangement? Well, there are some flights that are exempt from this, including the following:

  • Flights to & from mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau
  • Flights with a layover in Anchorage (which is a big cargo hub for Cathay Pacific)
  • Direct turnaround flights

Crews that didn’t volunteer will primarily be rostered on these flights. Presumably the pay will be significantly better for employees who did volunteer, given the number of flight hours they’ll likely accrue over the course of three weeks of (primarily) long haul flights, compared to the occasional same day turn.

It has been stated that Cathay Pacific believes the crew quarantine requirement will add as much as 400 million HKD (~52 million USD) to its monthly cash burn. Unfortunately Cathay Pacific recently closed all of its US and Canada flight attendant bases, or else using those crews could have been a useful way to at least somewhat circumvent these restrictions.

January was one of Cathay Pacific’s roughest months ever — the airline carried just 30,410 passengers the entire month, which is an average of under 1,000 passengers per day. The airline had a record-low average load factor of just 13.3%.

Cathay Pacific’s January load factor was ~13%

Bottom line

Hong Kong is introducing a new air crew quarantine requirement as of next week, requiring arriving crew to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks, and then undergo medical surveillance for one week.

Cathay Pacific will be most impacted by this, given that it’s Hong Kong’s largest airline. Not only will this be extremely costly for the airline, but it will also be tough on crews that volunteer for this arrangement, as they’ll be without family for five weeks at a time.

(Tip of the hat to SINJim)

  1. Hong Kong and other countries that continue to cling to stringent requirements will pay an enormous price in their economies even as vaccine rollouts continue throughout the world. Europe and the U.S. as a whole will reopen to the world far faster than some of East Asia – with significant implications for global aviation.

  2. Dumb and a complete over-reaction. They should just shutdown operations at this point. What a shame. In a few years we will all look back and think WTF?!

  3. @ Timo:
    Yes, you are right, but this is exactly what the “new”* masters in Beijing want.
    *: Not really new, but the first 20 years were fairly according to the treaty. Xi’s accession to God status changed it.

    @ Ben:
    Flights between Hong Kong and Macau? Really?
    There is a bridge which starts at the airport, AND a regular ferry service from the arrivals hall which takes 35 minutes.

  4. How many crew will this actually effect?

    They’re carrying 1,000 passengers a day.

    Subtract the exempt flights and what’s left over?

  5. @ Tim Dunn: The half-assed lockdowns that have taken place in the last year in the US have also cost an enormous amount economically. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Covid will cost the US $16 Trillion, almost an entire years worth of economic output. While there’s no doubt that they suffered economically as well, the people who live in countries like New Zealand and China that truly locked down for 6-8 weeks last spring have been able to live largely normal lives safe from Covid since those lockdowns. Meanwhile, people like you keep harping on how bad it must be for them.

  6. I’m not interesting in arguing whether lockdowns saved lives or not; we simply have no idea of the number of deaths from other causes because they aren’t reported on an hourly basis.
    There is ample data that continues to show that covid is not fatal for the vast majority of people who even get it, case numbers worldwide are falling, and the US and Europe have been the epicenters of covid. Europe as a whole locked down much more aggressively than the US and their death rates are not much different on a per capita basis.
    Countries that have locked their borders have hurt their economies which degrades the quality of life for some people.
    We can argue all day and then some about the value of lockdowns but I’m not interested in that point.
    The point is that Hong Kong and other E. Asia countries that aggressively lock down will fall back compared to other countries that are not doing the same – and for an airline like CX, that has significant implications. Not all countries in E. Asia are taking the same approach.

  7. @Tim Dunn: China, where Covid probably started, has an economy that is growing. In the third quarter of 2020, their economy grew 4.9% compared to the same quarter in 2019. The US economy, in contrast, contracted during that time. China effectively locked down, enabling their economy to come back. And they are using their economic recovery as propaganda against the US as it continues to slog through the Pandemic. The US, and Europe to a lesser extent, did not effectively lock down, and as a result we have had these reoccurring surges (three surges in the US at this point) that have sapped the confidence of the American public to go back to a normal lifestyle even when they are permitted to do Pre-Covid “normal” things like fly commercially (for example, the US has never closed or restricted commercial air travel domestically, yet travelling numbers have plummeted since last March and have not come close to fully recovering).

    Countries like China, Australia, and New Zealand have shown the world that hard lockdowns work when they have been instituted. Europe was better than the US at driving down infection numbers last spring, but then eased up in the summer and got hit hard again this winter.

  8. @ Reaper — Well they’re carrying 1,000 passengers per day, but at a 13% load factor, so that’s like offering ~7,700 seats per day. And that’s not even accounting for cargo-only flights. The airline has significantly reduced its schedule due to these restrictions, so we’re probably not actually talking about *that* many crew members.

  9. @ Pierre — I’m just passing on what the announcement says. I’m not sure if Cathay Pacific maybe operates some cargo-only flights there from elsewhere. Airlines are operating a lot of unusual flights nowadays, after all.

  10. @Tim Dunn @JBR: The clearest illustration I’ve seen of how effectively China has managed COVID-19 vs. the USA is to look at photo galleries on SmartShanghai.com. Shanghai is the most populous city in the world, with between 22 and 26 million people, home to the world’s largest subway system and a nightlife that makes NYC look tame. Looking at pictures there for the last nine months has been like peeking at an alien world: those *crowds*! Concerts *indoors*. People are *hugging*!

    Pool party, last August(!): https://www.smartshanghai.com/pictures/13205
    Walking with a few thousand strangers: https://www.smartshanghai.com/pictures/13207
    Indoor concerts and nightlife: https://www.smartshanghai.com/pictures/13229
    Indoor pillow fights with hundreds: https://www.smartshanghai.com/pictures/13229

    For most of my friends in Shanghai and Beijing, they have enjoyed more-or-less normal lives for most of the time America has been blundering its way through the COVID pandemic. Between its incompetent COVID response and systemic infrastructure problems, the USA is looking suspiciously like a great power in decline.

  11. @Tim Dunn

    There are plenty of sound scientific methods for estimating deaths caused (directly or indirectly) by COVID, one of which is to examine increase in death over the same period in previous years. In all estimates, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost due to COVID, and it takes a special kind of cold heartedness to not care for those lives lost. Glad you’ve clearly defined what you aren’t interested in, and obviously everyone should care about what you are or aren’t interested in, and public policies should absolutely be determined by what you care about. Are you going to propose the sun revolves around you next?

    Finally, your predictions are completely off and wrong, because Taiwan, Australia, China et al have already had almost an extra year of almost no lockdowns, fantastic quality of life and low death rates, while the West still struggles because of selfish individuals such as yourself. Why should anyone care about your claims when they’ve been proven wrong by past experience?

  12. @ turkfresser
    The point is not the value of the lives those who died vs economy
    HK is a city not a continent
    It would not survive for ever without influx of people from the outside
    There appears to be no medium or long term game plan
    The goal of 100% protection is unrealistic not only today, but because at some point in 1, 2, 10 years the borders will have to reopen and it is not plausible that 100% of the world population will be vaccinated. And the vaccination or the entire HK population is more feasible, but still theoretical
    Applying the strictest procedures might limit cases today, but is only a temporizing measure. Rather, you’d believe herd immunity would have been a more attainable goal in HK

  13. The Hong Kong government (or their Communist Chinese masters across the border) is using the pandemic as an excuse to stop the mass exodus of their younger generation to the UK. This crew quarantine is just another extreme measure.

    Ever since mass protests broke out in Hong Kong almost 2 years ago, the Communist Chinese had accelerated the “cleansing” of the opposition, replacing the locals that aren’t loyal to them with implants from mainland that are. Commonwealth countries led by UK (HK was a British colony until 1997) have created lifeboat schemes to help those willing to leave. The UK scheme took effect end of January. Logically, the Communist Chinese regime should have been delighted to see them leave, but no, they consider any willful exodus a serious humiliation and loss of face.

    So how does that have anything to do with the new crew quarantine? The HK government had been trying hard to discourage BA and VS to fly flights between HK and UK, putting a lot of restrictions on inbound flights, so much so that both have been flying empty planes (with only cargo in the belly) to Hong Kong just so they can operate flights from Hong Kong back to London. So the HK government is upping the ante. They don’t care about the financial survivability of Cathay Pacific; after all they are already part owners through a cash injection late last year. All Communist Chinese don’t put a price tag on political objectives.

    If mass exodus continues, particularly towards the summer months, exit visas for local residents won’t be far away.

  14. @ David
    While I am not Ben who moderates this and I am not condemning your just frustration , as a physician who is also researcher and epidemiologist I’d say that @Tim Dunn is not offering a Qanon conspiracy theory here. In fact several of his statements are correct. Fingerpointing him as a ‘selfish individual that is causing the West to fail’ maybe is giving him too much credit. While I can’t stand people with the mask below their nose, the entire scientific community is very divided, and in good faith i guess. We practice medicine and we do research as rigorously as we can. Along with a large number of colleagues, we have been STUNNED for the past year on how things are often presented, decided, and then imposed on to millions who are have no choice but believing and hoping, without the support of controlled data and validated evidence. In the pre-Covid days the quality of evidence of many studies that are now cited by the media, touted by the so-called opinion leaders, and brandished the politicians, would often not have not been deemed admissible to change a cholesterol pill on a patient, let alone to impose measures which everyone recognizes as draconian. So there should be a debate, because we can’t assume what we do is right because ‘what if we didn’t do it’….

  15. Collectively the people of HK have been thru a lot, and the results show for it. Sucking it up for a few months is certainly better than killing 500k americans.

  16. @peteexpxp

    So who exactly is opting to “killing 500k Americans”?

    @Filo and @Tim Dunn

    Thank you for bringing sober and factual items to the discussion. Unfortunately, paranoia rules the day in many places right now, and the rabid responses here reflect that.

    To those who keep bringing up small duck-pond island nations like Taiwan or New Zealand as “models”, you can’t compare them to vast, interconnected countries like the United States or the European Union with hundreds of millions of people. Once the pandemic is established in those vast areas, you simply cannot stop it, and border closures won’t help. Yes there is appropriate mitigation such as distancing and mask wearing, but broadly, there is no proven correlation between specific business shutdowns and downward trends in covid spread. Just ask us here in California.

    And regardless of the motive (pandemic paranoia, xenophobia, etc), undue restrictions to international travel are simply wrong. They are sinister and unjust, but they become almost like a cult thing. And very difficult to get rid of, once instituted.

  17. @Filo
    I question your claims when you’re presenting HK as striving for 100% protection. No one is striving for that, but they are looking to keep numbers low until herd immunity can be achieved via vaccination (which is not the same thing as 100% protection).

    We are in the middle of a pandemic. Are you suggesting we should do nothing until there’s proper controlled data? There’s empirical evidence to suggest that masks (which are hardly draconian) and lockdowns (which are, admittedly, much more draconian) work. Many of @Tim Dunn’s points are completely off, would you care to point out which of his “facts” are correct?

  18. After following pilot_obet daily since you got me hooked Ben, I can’t imagine pilots going through anymore than they currently are.

  19. This is actually…not that bad.
    I’m cabin crew for a major airline in Australia and am about to enter a six-week effective quarantine to operate international services.
    We are Sydney based crew, but for the purposes of these ops are being based in a quarantine facility (not a hotel, more like a workers camp) near Darwin. We will operate for 28 days to a number of European and Asian destinations (think Darwin-Frankfurt etc), with lockdown in all abroad hotels (cannot leave the room) and then back to the quarantine facility in Darwin. We then return to Sydney for 14 days hotel quarantine before we’re released for two weeks off.

  20. Not getting into the discussion of HK’s part as a pawn getting beaten up in the much bigger game of US vs. China which some people bring up, but remember the population density is extremely high and if an uncontrolled outbreak took place it would go exponential in no time, which would produce a way higher pressure on intensive care and so on and very likely also hit the health care workers hard as it is an extremely hard place to completely isolate yourself in, there is really nowhere to run…

  21. The point about all of these islands closing up is that once they reopen then I predict they will have issues with CoVid.

    Secondly don’t believe any number/photo or such like from China. They have the ability to fool the outside world.

    Finally they are still controlling inbound traffic. A friend of mine retuned from completing her MBA in the USA and had 3 weeks of quarantine in Nanjing and her American iPhone taken and smashed in front of her.

  22. @JBR Based on FT (Financial Times, nit Flyer Talk) in 2020 real GDP of UK dropped by -11.2%, France -9.1%, Japan -5.3%, Australia – 3.8%, US – 3.7% while China grew +1.2%. Note that US and Europe has service oriented economies whereas a lot GDP of Australia is coming from exporting natural resources to China which is the manufacturing hub of the world. The latter is the main reason for the difference in the economic indicators.
    Regarding CX, they are likely to suffer longer then their competitors I do not know about Hong Kong, but my Japanese colleagues told me that their companies prohibit them from going abroad for now and the vaccination in Japan only started this week. Keep in mind that Japan has to decide about the Summer Olympics.

  23. @Chris Hong Kong was the epicenter, outside of mainland China, of the SARS epidemic in 2003, so the population was extremely alert about another outbreak. Yes, it is one of the most densely populated city in the world, so nobody is debating whether the territory needs drastic measures to prevent a large scale outbreak.

    That said, the fact that a territory like HK that needs disease control measures does not mean every measure put forth by the HK government makes sense. In fact, sadly most didn’t. To begin with, the government refused to close the border to mainland China during the initial outbreak last January / February (and don’t say it isn’t practical or politically viable; neighboring Macau, also a special administrative region under so-called One-Country-Two-Systems, did), but strict entry requirements had been imposed from anywhere else. In fact, healthcare professionals organized a strike to urge the government to close its borders to China to no avail. And banning restaurant dine-in’s after 6pm was another stroke of absurdity, as if the virus is on a clock and won’t spread during the day. Having an anti-mask law still in effect as a result of mass protests 2 years ago is another head scratcher. In fact, it is still against the law if you wear a face mask (a recent final court of appeals ruling deemed this anti-mask law constitutional), and of course you break a different law if you don’t. Needlessly to say, enforcement is totally based on whether you are pro government or not.

    Nothing in Hong Kong right now makes sense, so there is no reason to rationalize this decision. And don’t think for a moment this is a result of the bigger game of US vs China. The crackdown in HK began with Xi’s rise to power in 2012. Obama was still the US President then. Remember there was a massive protest in the fall of 2014 with hundreds and thousands of protestors occupying the streets for months. Xi didn’t bulge then. The tightening of control from mainland accelerated from that point.

  24. @Kendor: What have you been smoking?

    (1) In what metrics Shanghai is the largest city in the world? Then what about Tokyo and Delhi, who are clearly 10 mil and 7 mil ahead of Shanghai?

    (2) World’s largest metro system – that’s little skewed! It depends which metrics you put forth. With a single operator system and most number of stations NYC is still no. 1.

    (3) NYC is lame compared of Shanghai in terms of night life?? Heh heh… *face plam*

    Whatever makes you happy, man! But don’t spread misinfo beyond your family.

  25. 1) You are correct and I was mistaken, Shanghai is currently listed third by population just as you say: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_cities

    2) I sure like New York, even it’s quaint olde tymey subway system with open tracks and many rats available for adoption. Shanghai is the largest metro system in the world by track length. From Wikipedia: “The Shanghai Metro system is the world’s biggest metro system by route length, totaling 743 kilometres (462 mi).[5][note 3] It is also the second biggest by the number of stations with 381 stations on 18 lines.[note 1][note 2] It ranks second in the world by annual ridership with 3.88 billion rides delivered in 2019.[1] The daily ridership record was set at 13.29 million on March 8, 2019.[2] Over 10 million people use the system on an average workday.[6]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Metro

    3) I didn’t say NYC’s nightlife was “lame”, I said it was “tame” by comparison. That’s my experience having visited both cities many dozens of times. Your perception may differ and I welcome diversity in all of its myriad and wonderful forms. Kumbaya

  26. @David
    You can ask Tim Dunn to argument his points, which are worth consideration and not just ridicule simply because there are no strong, unbiased, controlled data that show all he claims is wrong, and he’s not just negating the facts that we are in a pandemic
    But It has been more than ONE year and I repeat this is a pan-demic, not anymore an epi-demic, and whether we like it or not it will become en-demic
    All you need to do is to explore the deep meaning of these words, to realize that asides from their window dressing purposes, testing, contact tracing, quarantining, the national guard receiving pax from domestic flights at JFK, the flashy temperature scans at the gym, maybe even closing Broadway or again the US Open, etc etc etc are way too late and are not anymore the way to move forward
    When i say 100% virus-free (they even somewhat ridiculously call the flights covid-free) refer to the policies (which several countries follow, but which hong kong champions) of complete border closures and of those that burden with multiple combined restrictions (preflight and postflight testing, quarantine, post-quarantine testing etc) healthy individuals who fly for work or for reason other than tourism, while failing to protect the true categories at risk who are already within the borders. All in the delusional aim to completely eradicate the virus from individual countries.
    And this is not just an opinion, David, this is medical school, mph, phd, clinical and research experience, so, yes, in this case my opinion counts more than yours -no offense-, of course, my friend

  27. @Filo

    You realize you’re discussing whether other countries should close their borders right? *Their* country, not your poorly managed country right? Their closures and contact tracing are completely justified, considering they didn’t take mess up like the West, and can control the spread through those measures (and have successfully done so). If we are going to play appeal to authority, then your opinion does not outweigh the collective medical opinion of multiple national and international health orgs, and their epidemiologists. So in this case, your opinion is a niche, anti intellectual one (especially when you aren’t even providing any data to substantiate your own point).

    Interestingly, you’re also making assumptions about my profession, while making unsubstantiated claims about your own. You can claim to be anything on the internet.

  28. Well, after 11 months working 14 hours per day (with one week of vacation in July and two weeks in December/January) in order to adapt our operations to COVID, I fully understand the amount of sacrifice the pandemic requires to millions of workers, including Cathay crew, but really by no means only them. I actually think their schedule is quite relaxed with two weeks off (out of quarantine) every 5 weeks. I don’t know anyone (except those furloughed) who had so much leisure time over the last year, to be honest.

  29. @David
    I didn’t say my country was ‘poorly managed’, that’s a bit if a generalization. I wish other countries had our rate of vaccination, tho. l don’t assume your profession, but I am decent at recognizing colleagues, and don’t know of any colleague who expresses such opinions as yours, so I assumed, please don’t take offense. I have to right to just hope you are not in the medical profession, with the exaggerated claims and the berating attitude towards other posters. You can believe or not my credentials, that’s not the point. You can also claim to be an expert (as people can claim everything on the internet, you said) but you need to be reminded that accusing someone else of co-responsibility in the death of 1/2 M people is not a joke, and we’re here to read about aviation news from the world we all miss and for the chance of mourning and even venting about the drastic changes in our lifestyle. @Andy is right, who would care about the Cathay FA requirements when some of us work 60+ hours a week (and we can’t even go on vacation)?
    So please chill, you should maybe abstain from participating in a rational discussion until your anger clears a bit, because I am sure you’re no fool and you don’t want to look like one.

  30. @Filo

    So you ask for a rational discussion, but have ignored my request for some credible citation to back up your claims, and offered none (my personal sphere of acquaintances seem to share my opinion doesn’t count as evidence).

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