Cathay Pacific Adds First & Business Class Face Mask Exemption

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific has just added an interesting face mask exemption, and I’m curious to see if other airlines follow.

No more face masks when sleeping on Cathay Pacific

Executive Traveller reports that Cathay Pacific is no longer requiring first class & business class passengers to wear face masks when their seats are in the fully reclined position.

This only applies on long haul equipped planes with fully flat beds, so it doesn’t apply in Cathay Pacific’s regional business class, which doesn’t offer as much spacing.

Cathay Pacific has added face mask exceptions for premium passengers

Previously the airline only allowed passengers to briefly remove their masks when eating or drinking.

Cathay Pacific’s logic is that first & business class seats offer more personal space and high enclosures. Combined with the benefit of HEPA filters, the airline feels it can have this policy without putting passengers at risk. This makes Cathay Pacific the only major airline to have such an exemption.

Should other airlines follow?

I think reasonable people can disagree on whether this change is appropriate and should be adapted by more airlines, or whether this is a step in the wrong direction.

Let me start by saying that I’ve taken a few long haul flights in the past year, and while I’m a sensitive sleeper, I’ve had no issues adapting to sleeping with a mask on. I wear masks religiously, even in situations where they’re not mandated, because I view mask wearing as a small thing I can do. Frankly I’ve kind of come to like them.

Flying is reasonably safe thanks in large part to the excellent mask compliance on planes. In Cathay Pacific first class you’re typically more than six feet from the next person, and on top of that you’re surrounded by high enclosures. Is there a significant risk of spreading coronavirus to others in these situations? I can’t say for sure, but I’d imagine the odds are rather low.

In business class you’re just a little bit closer to others, and the enclosures aren’t quite as high. Perhaps the risk there is marginally higher, but again, is it a serious risk? I would think not.

Logically I think these changes are reasonable enough. Perhaps the biggest thing speaking against this is that it creates a “class war” of sorts around wearing masks. In other words, if you can afford an expensive seat you don’t have to wear a mask, while others do.

What about an empty flight in economy where everyone has a couple of rows to themselves. Should passengers not have to wear face masks there either?

I will say that the timing seems odd here, as this comes at a time when there are even more contagious new strains of coronavirus. Is there logic for this change happening now rather than six months ago, or did Cathay Pacific just decide sleeping in first & business class is low risk regardless of how under control coronavirus is?

Does this create a class war of sorts around wearing face masks?

Bottom line

Cathay Pacific is no longer requiring first & business class passengers to wear face masks when in bed mode. Once the pandemic starts to get under control, presumably we’ll at some point see airline ease mask restrictions.

I’m curious to see if other airlines follow Cathay Pacific’s lead, or if airlines find other ways to ease these restrictions without eliminating them altogether.

What do you make of Cathay Pacific’s first & business class face mask exception?

  1. This is seems like a terrible idea, especially with more infectious variants of the virus spreading.

    Maybe later this year it might be acceptable, but this seems like the wrong time.

  2. It’s an airborne disease – it doesn’t care about a partition. I’m sure the hepa filters help but no thank you.

  3. Let me start by saying that I’ve taken a few long haul flights in the past year, and while I’m a sensitive sleeper, I’ve had no issues adapting to sleeping with a mask on

    I hate when you always say that you don’t see the big deal of wearing a mask
    I am not at all a anti-mask but for me its really annoying

  4. Covid is smart, you can’t get it while you eat or drink. What a b****. I fly in Business for work, and always have no-mask and glass of water or coffee by the side. In 18 flights within Europe and long haul overseas haven’t hear anything from crew or fellow passengers.

    I truly support Cathay and Qatar and I will exclusively fly airlines where I don’t need a mask.

  5. Hmm. I flew Qatar in October, and to my understanding face masks AND shields were required in QSuites, though it was unenforced. Maybe it changed?

    When flying in QSuites, masks would be impractical, the cabin is too hot, and there are no air vents. On our second, shorter leg (5 hrs DOH-MLE), we sat in economy and wore masks and shield for the entirety with the exception while eating. But the air vents in economy made it comfortable.

  6. One of the most interesting posts here in awhile. It is, indeed, a class war. Those in economy are percieved to be far more likely to be traveling in groups, families, etc. As well, less likely to be vaccinated. More likely to be living in smaller settings with multiple generation family members.

    I’m not saying what Cathay is doing is effective at all. But it sure rings the bell of being a class distinction. I hope they have some science behind this. Otherwise it is a potential issue in optics.

  7. @John
    The fact that you think a mask post makes it political is your problem….
    and the reason we’ll have over 500k deaths very soon.
    But keep dwelling on your space lasers…

  8. I’m here to hear your political opinions (and all other opinions) so bring it on!

    That’s beside the point though. This issue is not political, it is a question of whether this policy makes sense scientifically

    We all can choose to take airlines that make us feel safe or not. I won’t fly an airline that doesn’t enforce mask wearing. But I’d happily fly Cathay F any time, in a mask, without a mask, or in a hyperbaric chamber. That’s just me l…

  9. “We’re not here for your political opinions”. The fact that mask wearing is a damned political flashpoint is one of the reasons why all of this is a giant mess. Each side regards the other with sneering, judgemental contempt. I can see it now – one side will climb up on their soapbox and say that only an idiot would think lying down in first class actually makes a difference, so once again everyone has to suffer to appease the whiny rich. The other will get on their high horse and proudly boast of spending an entire flight without a mask because that’s how long it took to sip a bottle of water, and they didn’t get sick, so suck it up you stupid snowflakes or go live in your sealed bubble and leave everyone alone.

  10. What magic do people think masks are capable of that passengers aren’t exhaling? The “dirty” air is still getting into the plane around the mask. The only issue is whether or not you’re close enough to somebody else for that to matter or sneeze/cough in their face. In a suite-style business class product, with the bed reclined, you’re not. Also … hilarious that the virtue signal gold medal team living in the US would criticize the Hong Kong (186 Covid deaths TOTAL) flag carrier for being reckless.

  11. Most of these flights required all passengers to have a COVID-19 test. If you are soo worry about getting covid on a plane because someone is not wearing a mask, maybe you should reconsider flying altogether until you are vaccinated or believe the risk is low. I am sorry you can’t have it both ways.

  12. @John — when you say “…it’s just we’re not here to hear your political opinions,” who’s the “we” you’re referring to?

    (Rhetorical question: I don’t care what your answer is.)

    Anyway, why don’t you stick to speaking for yourself, and assume the rest of us can do just as well ourselves, mmmkay?

  13. The problem with CX is that they don’t have air vents. These make me feel much safer on any aircraft (though even better if they are strong air vents like on Airbuses or 757s, rather than the weak air vents on many 737 aircraft.

  14. Im actually surprised Cathay Pacific is doing this. I feel people in Asia do not mind wearing a mask at all and just like you, I’ve been on 3 longhaul flights last year and was comfortable sleeping with a mask on.

  15. I’ve been on a number of long haul flights in the past 6 months. When the cabin goes dark and the bed down, the mask comes off.

  16. The amount of ignorance and fear in this comment section never ceases to amaze me.

    I fully support Cathay’s decision, it’s a step in the right direction and I hope more airlines will follow.

  17. I understand that wearing a mask while sleeping is uncomfortable, but sleeping maskless seems reckless. COVID is airborne, so unless your suite is fully enclosed and airtight, you can still spread it despite any walls. And we still, of course, breath while we sleep. On long haul flights, I generally switch to a more comfortable cloth mask (which protects others but not me) while sleeping instead of wearing my surgical mask. That seems like a good compromise between protection and a good nights sleep.

  18. This comment section shows people haven’t learned sh*t from the last two waves. There’s no vaccine for ignorance. Wear that god-damn mask at least until the vast majority of people got vaccinated.

  19. This is such a stupid idea and an obvious attempt by an airline desperate for passengers to entice people to fly. It’s absolutely idiotic. We’re not there yet.

  20. here’s what’s weird – I ALWAYS wore a mask while sleeping in CX F long before covid b/c I discovered that by doing so I never woke up with a sore throat from the dry air in the plane! Just so ironic………

  21. This. Is. Insane!

    Lucky just google London Hanoi flight coronavirus. Virus spreads on planes, duhhh. Planes aren’t magic bro

  22. In your mind, you may believe masks help prevent infection on airplanes, but there is zero scientific evidence to support this. If they truly helped prevent infection, no one would remove them to eat or drink. And, of course, you would hear of many people catching the virus from their airplane flights. We need more experiments like this of people not wearing masks on airplanes so that we can move from fear to fact.

  23. I believe it’s a little early to relax the mask requirement. We all need to hang in there for a few more months in order to save some lives. It’s a small sacrifice to make with the control of the virus within striking distance.

  24. The inconsistency of the mask shaming crew is so tedious. You have zero issue boarding a US domestic flight – and we know the majority of you are Americans- but Cathay’s policy is over the line. On a three hour flight from NY to Miami there are 16 people in business class munching away and drinking in with no mask. Most will spend 30-60 minutes of 180 minute flight with no mask. And there are zero health screens for any passengers. Either everyone should wear a mask for the flight to protect others (no meal for you) or it’s not so important as to be required for the full flight. I don’t care which side you choose but pls be consistent in your righteousness. Cathay’s schedule is so thin as the moment one would have to believe most traffic is O&D. They probably know their customers better than you do.

  25. @ The Original Donna – “We all need to hang in there for a few more months in order to save some lives.”

    That’s what everyone said a year ago.

  26. @Chopsticks… what you wrote was the dumbest thing I’ve read regarding COViD and masks on an airplane and I suffered through Trump’s twitter feed for four years. How about you lead this research endeavor by flying without a mask sitting right next to someone that’s coughing up a lung.

  27. The logic of wearing a mask that protects others when everyone on a plane has just had a negative test is eluding me. If I have to wear a mask then I want it to protect me, after all, I’ve just had a negative test. Alternatively, if the tests are accurate (if they are not then why are we bothering with them?) then once tested no masks should be needed. My view is that if you are worried about catching something, then wear a mask, if you’re happy to trust the expensive and government approved/mandated test then don’t.

  28. If people keep saying “we’re not there yet” or “it’s too soon” “we” will never “be there” (sic.)

    Viruses always change, scientists (or governments really) have just started to publicise names for them now. I’m not saying there’s an agenda but this is the reality.

    There is a vaccine now. Besides, humans can play with nature, they can’t alter it entirely.

    I’m glad some people and companies realise it’s high time to ease restrictions.

  29. It is, indeed, a class war. Those in economy are percieved to be far more likely to be traveling in groups, families, etc. As well, less likely to be vaccinated. More likely to be living in smaller settings with multiple generation family members.

  30. Nice!! Brains are returning to the world.

    I’m so happy to see little wins like this – where people with brains just claw back a little of the humanity we’ve all lost.

    Sleep with a mask on a plane is **AWFUL**, so, I manage to ‘slide mine down’ or etc, and no one has said anything.

    More common sense is good.
    Might route a transit to Asia this year through HKG just to support this.

    Also, all the crazy people here demanding more restrictions on their own freedoms…. wow people.

    Remember, you can stay inside if you want. You can wear a mask anywhere you want, forever.
    Just don’t tell other people what to do with their bodies… I thought we figured that out the last few decades?

  31. Do your research, 99% of all communicable diseases are transported like wildfire around the world via…drumroll please….”airplanes”.

    Compartmentalized Air x Poor Circulation + Enclosed quarters = Transmission.

    It Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how viruses move rapidly from continent to continent within a 48 hour window.

    It’s a bad idea and it’s all about the money.

    Airlines are feeling the squeeze and are adapting without concern about public welfare.

    …and for those feeling their liberties and freedoms are being taken away….you lost that a long time ago, example: you wear a seatbelt, you get your drivers license renewed religiously, you are known by a 9 digit number that tells everything about you, you pack around a portable gps tracker every minute of the day, should I go on?

  32. Amazing! Finally some customer focused policy and some respect for the people coughing up to fly in F and J. Nothing stopping people who want to wear a mask wearing them. Wear them in your car, your bed, the shower, wear three of them if you want just leave it to the rest of us to decide when it’s necessary.

    The world has gone insane, the same people who snarky comments at me with a face mask on public transport when this all started and now the ones yelling is it really necessary to be on a plane this year or why aren’t you wearing a face mask alone sitting on a park bench. You compete to virtue signal mask wearing with your social media followers.

  33. @Bree

    What is “rocket science” is where you get your facts and figures from. 99%? Really?

    Because we didn’t all start in Africa and colonise the globe after that. We didn’t then use horse carriages and boats to explore and settle further. Just because an airplane gets you from A to B quicker, doesn’t mean COVID wouldn’t have spread. It might have spread slower but that isn’t necessarily better.

    So, Bree, like many others; I would like to make an open request to stop trying to control nature.
    -Seeing each other’s faces
    -Human contact and interaction
    -Illness and death
    -Leisure activities
    Amongst other things are all natural and/or natural human behaviours.

    In thousands of years humanity has never behaved so irrational.

    Suddenly we all think science has beaten nature but yet we keep getting proven wrong. That’s why there’s no end in sight to the pandemic. The sooner we stop this and let it run it’s course the better we will be.

    By all means use vaccines and medication to support recovery but trying to control nature is just ridiculous.

  34. The new variants are going to unleash subsequent waves of covid across the world. The 6 foot rule has been proven to be nothing more than a general guideline and the virus can indeed travel more than six feet. I wouldn’t be comfortable with this. Its not like these people are in an airtight bubble. Virus can easily jump seat to seat and on those long haul flights there is plenty of time for it to happen.

  35. Shocking decision from Cathay Pacific which will no doubt lead to countless deaths.

    As Belarus has shown, if you fail to impose restrictions (no lockdowns – bars, restaurants, nightclubs, concert halls etc etc have all remained open, no social distancing etc.) then everyone dies. Oh wait…

  36. @George, what you do affects other people. And with Covid, what you do can kill other people. That’s why you don’t have a right to complete unfettered “freedom”. And considering your narcissistic attitude about this, I hope you never get the complete freedom you long for while looking in the mirrored reflection of
    yourself all day long.

  37. To the people talking about “I’ve had a negative test why do I need to wear one”, look at the tennis players who have just come into in Australia. They and their support crew were ALL required to have a negative PCR test 72 hours before flying. They then flew on chartered flights into Australia. On arrival into Australia, as per or normal rules, they then went in quarantine and obviously began mandatory testing. Some of the support crew were then diagnosed with COVID and eventually one tennis player. Yes the numbers are obviously very low but the point is despite negative covid tests and being on chartered flights, people were still diagnosed with CoVID post the flights so clearly people are probably out and about in the community post being tested, or the tests are questionable (as is the case in some questions).
    Perhaps the business class logic is purely based on the number of people per square meter which is what we use in Australia.
    Who knows what the perfect solution is……

  38. @K4

    Life is extremely normal in Belarus, and when I say normal, I mean the old normal, not that strange new normal. There’s been no lockdown here, there’s no social distancing, everything has remained open, every day all the public transport is jam packed like it always has been. Back in Spring last year restaurants etc were a fair bit quieter than normal. People were a little cautious and stayed at home a lot more than normal, but at no stage were they mandated to stay at home. By summer last year all the restaurants were as busy as ever, people on mass seemed to have decided to continue with their lives and not live in fear.

    Belarus was heavily criticised internationally for holding their annual national victory day events on 9th May, it was said this would cause a huge spike in cases. It didn’t. After the election in August there were large protests every weekend for about 10 weeks. 100,000s every week. Belarus has literally done the opposite of the rest of the world, yet not suffered any doomsday scenario consequences.

    Plenty of people here have had Covid, hospitals have been busy but not overrun. People have sadly died, but not in huge numbers.

    Minsk has turned into a destination for people all over Europe who wanted to escape the lockdowns in their home countires.

  39. @ Ian

    See this from UK.Gov website, is the UK government just saying this to stop us from going there?

    Entry to Belarus
    From midnight on 20 December, the government of Belarus will introduce additional exit controls at its land borders. No one can leave Belarus by a land border unless they have a valid exemption as set out by the Council of Ministers. Flights continue to operate in and out of Minsk National Airport as normal.

    Entering Belarus through the land border is only possible for those BNs who have temporary or permanent residency in Belarus.

    All foreign arrivals, above the age of six, must have a medical certificate (PCR) showing a negative coronavirus test result, issued no later than 72 hours before entry. This requirement does not apply to holders of permanent or temporary residency in Belarus.

    All arrivals from the UK must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether they show symptoms.

    There are different requirements in place for arrivals from other countries. You should check the specific COVID-19 test requirements set by the Belarusian authorities and your airline in advance of your flight. Different airlines have different requirements and may refuse boarding if they are not met.

    You must wear a protective face mask in all indoor public spaces, on all Belavia flights and at Minsk National Airport.

    You’ll need to have valid medical insurance before travelling to Belarus. You’ll be asked to provide proof of your insurance when you apply for your visa or when you arrive at Minsk airport under the visa-free regime. Contact the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus for full details of what’s required.

    It is still possible to enter Belarus by land, however, given the current situation, checks at the border may take longer than usual. If you are planning to enter or exit Belarus by land, we advise you to check the travel advice of the relevant neighbouring country, as coronavirus-related border restrictions may be put in place at short notice.

  40. @K4

    Well, the changes at the land border make no difference to tourists entering Belarus, as the visa free entry to Belarus has only ever been valid for entry at Minsk international airport. So the line where it says “Flights continue to operate in and out of Minsk National Airport as normal” is true, and the only thing that matters in terms of entry and exit.

    Yes you need valid medical insurance, but not “before travelling to Belarus” as stated. You need valid medical insurance before you can enter, this has always been the case and it is sold at the airport at the counters on the left hand side before you go to passport control. The cost is roughly 1 Euro a day.

    You do need a negative PCR test result to enter as a tourist, and you are meant to self quarantine for 10 days. But there’s no checks on this and it seems virtually no one does it.

    “You must wear a protective face mask in all indoor public spaces” that made me laugh.

    Let me know when you’re coming 🙂

  41. @Ian

    I think I am coming, but are you sure about the self isolation bit. I am dead scared of Eastern Block authorities/police/jail.

  42. I flew Qatar’s Qsuites from Houston to Doha and I took my mask off the entire time my suite door was shut. I can’t think of a reason to keep a mask on when I’m enclosed in cubicle. It does raise some questions about whether this is fair to passengers in other cabins but I think common sense should prevail in this case.

  43. @musings

    Life is not fair. You get what you pay for.

    I think we have all gone off the rails.

    Why should economy passengers have the same benefits as business class?

    This is becoming more of a resurgence of communism than controlling the virus.

  44. Finally some common sense from an airline. Those protesting probably drive your car alone with a mask on.

  45. I have ZERO issue with this new CX policy!

    When the truth comes out, and it will… I wonder how people will handle it?.

  46. 1). It does continue to widen the class gap. The difference is already there with lie down seats, meals, service and then the curtain.

    2). Curious to see when countries start to block Cathay flights due to this policy. Seems difficult to justify face mask requirements on flights and then this is waived in your face.

    3). I won’t comment on this being safe or not. It appears I am the only OMAAT reader that didn’t get a Doctorate in Virology from Harvard. But my degrees do qualify me to recognize some that post from anger. (Looking straight @John first)

  47. @K4

    Yes, I know several people who have entered the country in the last few weeks, both Belarusians and foreigners.

    When are you planning to come? It’s pretty cold here at the moment, it’s been -10 to -20 the last week. But it looks incredibly beautiful, the city has been covered in snow for about the last 10 weeks!

  48. @Syd

    Nice! How long will you be staying for and what area of the city?

    Definitely a trip to the Bolshoi Theatre one evening for an opera or ballet.

    Dinner at Fabriq.

    The Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War is worth a visit. I think the Belarusian National Arts Museum is fantastic also, some great art and a beautiful building.

  49. I am not qualified to issue such judgements. Presumably, the airline has consulted with people who are. Indeed, I suspect that anyone who has appropriately been delegated this authority would not issue such a judgement without the airline furnishing a bevy of information that is beyond the scope of this article. I know I wouldn’t! Thus, while I am a proponent of mandatory masking in general, I don’t see much of a problem here. Sure, there is probably _some_ increased risk of transmission, but in terms of effects on public health writ large, I just don’t see it. If you don’t like it, don’t fly that airline–it’s not as if the virus isn’t already a pandemic! If people care about the intersection of public health and economic inequality, there are virtually innumerable causes of far greater import. I can only hope that if I am wrong, the people who have the answers will be the ones shaping policy.

  50. Lol “we’re not here yet”. Such an American viewpoint. As long as the airline restricts the number of Americans traveling it will be fine. Wearing a mask is only political in America.

  51. An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present, including an aircraft. No precautions can eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, and the risk of exposure applies to everyone.

    In other words, if you’re extremely worried about getting COVID-19, you shouldn’t be traveling at all, as no matter what measures (face coverings, physical distancing, etc…) are implemented, the non-zero risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is inherent in your decision to travel, and cannot be eliminated.

    Risks are inherent in any travel, especially during an epidemic or pandemic, but also in normal times.

  52. @Jack is it really true that in business class with Qatar you don’t have to wear a mask?
    I saw it in a statement on their website once, and many business and aviation sites wrote about it, however I still see everyone in videos wearing one and on the website in general it says ‘all passengers are required to wear face covering throughout the flight

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