Cathay Pacific Permanently Cuts Three US Routes

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

The pandemic is causing many airlines to rethink their strategies when it comes to network planning, fleet decisions, and more. Cathay Pacific is the latest airline to make permanent cuts to its route network, as it has revealed plans to eliminate seven routes.

Cathay Pacific eliminating seven routes

Danny Lee of the South China Morning Post quotes an internal Cathay Pacific memo, which confirms that Cathay Pacific will be eliminating seven long haul routes permanently. This includes flights from Hong Kong to:

  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • London Gatwick, United Kingdom
  • Male, Maldives
  • Newark, United States
  • Seattle, United States
  • Washington Dulles, United States

The routes that Cathay Pacific is cutting

The claim is that all of these routes had been losing money even before the pandemic. A few thoughts on these routes:

  • In the cases of London Gatwick and Newark, Cathay Pacific continues to operate to other major airports in the markets (London Heathrow and New York JFK), so I guess the attempt to cater to other parts of those markets just didn’t work out
  • Brussels and Dublin were only recent additions to Cathay Pacific’s route network, as the airline launched those routes in 2018
  • Cathay Pacific launched Washington Dulles flights in 2018, and launched Seattle flights in 2019; on the surface Seattle seems like it would be more successful than Washington, but Seattle has also seen so much new transpacific service in recent years
  • I’m a bit surprised the Maldives is being cut, since it’s not a very long flight, the destination is open to people from around the world, and if we’re expecting leisure travel to recover first, it seems like this route could do better than most

Cathay Pacific has permanently cut flights to seven destinations

What are “permanent” cuts at this point, anyway?

I think one logical question is what it even means for a route cut to be permanent.

Cathay Pacific is operating a very limited schedule at the moment, and plans to operate a quarter of its pre-pandemic schedule in the first half of 2021. So how should we interpret that these route cuts are permanent? Does that mean they’re never coming back?

The way I view this:

  • As Cathay Pacific starts to rebuild its network, I wouldn’t expect these routes to be among those added back
  • If & when things fully recover (probably years down the road), we could see the airline give some of these routes a try once again
  • It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these routes were added when Rupert Hogg was CEO, and under his leadership we saw the airline be the most adventurous when it comes to route planning; I wouldn’t expect the same principle to apply under current leadership

So yeah, don’t expect the above seven routes to return in the next few years. Maybe they’ll return further down the line, maybe not. Only time will tell.

These routes could return in the future, but not anytime soon

Bottom line

Cathay Pacific has revealed internally that it will discontinue seven routes permanently, including three to the US (Newark, Seattle, and Washington), three to Europe (Brussels, Dublin, and London Gatwick), and one to the Maldives.

It’s possible that these routes will be reinstated at some point in the future, but don’t expect them to be added back as the airline slowly rebuilds its network.

Personally I’m not surprised by most of these cuts — perhaps the Maldives elimination is the most interesting one to me.

Obviously the Maldives isn’t a high yield destination for airlines (since there’s little business travel), but you’d think it would be a destination that works better than most at this point. Perhaps the real issue is that those who would usually fly Cathay Pacific to the Maldives are currently in countries that are mostly locked down, like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, etc.

What do you make of Cathay Pacific’s route cuts?

  1. Maldives, while not a business destination, absolutely is a high yield destination for some airlines. Having worked at an airline that flew there, and having worked with the profit/ loss information including yields for all the routes, I can absolutely say that Maldives is definitely high yield for traffic coming from Europe and the Americas (the focus of my airline’s efforts). Fares were high, and people were willing to pay high fares, especially business class fares, to fly there. Even coach fares were high. Not a business market, but definitely a high end leisure route that generated high yields for my airline. Not sure about Asian traffic, but certainly for carriers flying from European and American markets. Suggesting that a market cannot be high yield because it’s not a business market reveals a lack of knowledge about what yield means and how the industry really works.

  2. I guess Maldives was high cost for them as it was not a daily frequency and not a turn-around, hence resulting in long and expensive crew layovers. Also not a market for Europeans due to the backtracking, I don’t even recall them publishing fates ex Europe (with one or two exceptions). They can easily serve the market via their Colombo flights with connection on Sri Lankan that has already been a routing option on most published fares.

  3. Unfortunately, I received a cancellation email from CX on the MLE route that I had booked with AS miles. Had 7 nights booked at the Waldorf, now I might have to cancel.

  4. having been in the Maldives last month, what I heard was that the market for Chinese had dried up with no return within sight. visitors are all American and European. resorts feel lucky to get a 20 percent occupancy these days. so I am told.

  5. I still think that the non daily nature of IAD hurt a lot. Too bad it’s gone, but given the situation in HK my personal travel won’t be taking me there.

  6. They never gave IAD a fighting chance. It was not daily, left really late at night, and was way overpriced in C. For example it was usually half the price to fly to TYO (in C) with a connection via any other carrier than CX via HKG. It was typically $8k compared to $4k on other carriers. Sad to see it go.

  7. Sad regarding the IAD and SEA cancellations. Flown both routes a few times in Business. A great product. Were always good loads when I flew them

  8. Not really surprised at any of these except for MLE. I’ll miss IAD the most. Excluding CA, this leaves only NH and KE as the only two Asian carriers.

    CX traditionally relied on mainland transit traffic to MLE. I suspect that given all the recent direct adds by mainland carriers that CX/HK dropped in importance. Apart from SQ/MI’s 2x daily, there are a number of “missing” Asian carriers — BR/CI/TG/MH/NH/JL etc. all do not fly to MLE.

  9. I’m sorta surprised that they haven’t cut any of their Australian destinations. Although their site says they are currently flying to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (infrequently, I’d guess), three others (Adelaide, Brisbane and Cairns) are still listed on some of the promotional pages. It’s interesting that they would publicly ‘cut’ some while others remain inactive or suspended, but not yet cut. Admittedly, Hong Kong to Australia is not long haul.

  10. @Jim
    Totally agreed. I’m biased since I live in IAD and wanted them to keep the route (it was really convenient and a great use of miles) but it was almost like they set it up for failure. Prices were literally $8,800+ RT in business (I never saw it lower than that), so miles were literally the only option for J. I don’t think the departure time was bad (it allowed for good sleep) but I do think this route could have worked if given time and priced a bit more reasonably.

  11. @Mike C
    Not surprised about the Australian routes being kept alive if barely since many HKers live in Australia. CX is probably seeing local traffic between the two places.

  12. Big loss on IAD. That was a great route and great use of miles.

    Can’t say I’m too surprised sadly. The few times I flew it, J was near empty.

  13. Similar to Alex, I got a cancellation email from CX regarding by HKG-MLE legs for next summer. Will have to look into using the AS miles stopovers to position to another country flying to MLE and eat the extra cost of flying from there.

  14. So that’s why my MLE-HKG flight randomly disappeared…sigh…rebooked onto Emirates with a stopover so that’ll be a new location for me to visit…but definitely preferred CX’s a/c and hard product in comparison….

  15. SEA seems like a shortsighted cut. That route had barely started, few people knew about it, and it will have plenty of potential once people start traveling again. I expect they’ll be back.

    That said, Hong Kong itself is a much less appealing destination now that Beijing has grabbed it by the throat and strangled its freedom.

  16. Flew HKG-MLE in late October last year on CX. A330-300 probably had 50 pax on board. Was shocked by how empty flight was. On the way home, as another data point, flew to CMB on EK’s flight from MLE, and that plane had similar loads. Granted the second flight is more of a milk run flight, but surprising that the airlines would run such empty flights with such big planes. Given CX’s financial position, they probably had to axe flights that perform only “some of the time”. Also, given that there are cheaper flights directly from mainland China, their connecting market may have dried up as well.

  17. Well I love CX First and the First lounges in HKG. I have a ticketed First Class RTW20 Birthday trip in July with JFK – HKG – LHR. Dependent upon vaccine and now having CX Fly the 77W

    BTW one year I flew CX 1st HKG – FRA then LH 1st FRA – IAD making my Birthday last 36 hours

  18. The Maldives route doesn’t surprise me: with Sri Lankan J fares typically under $800-$900 USD roundtrip from most parts of Asia, CX wasn’t competing with their $1,350+ fares…I flew CX once BKK-HKG-MLE and it was at about $1,500 USD, but as I used points for my lodging, I didn’t mind. All other visits were on UL and typically under $850 USD out of BKK and SIN…similar fares when booked out of ICN. Granted, this was in 2018 and 2019, but I cannot imagine those CX planes were very full in 2020, given all the Korean folks I saw connecting on UL in CMB…

  19. Big loss for IAD but echo the above sentiments about irrationally high biz fares, especially on AA tickets. Unfortunately AA’s DCA-JFK service has been cut back so it’s hard to connect to CX’s high frequency at JFK.

  20. CX to Australian ports are jammed full of cargo. We have very strict inbound limits to incoming international passengers at the moment, those flights are very empty people-wise but still profitable. Also CX has a very wide customer base in Australia – we love Hong Kong and also CX when flying further abroad.

  21. I agree with previous posters on IAD. The lack of daily flights and non competitive business class fares made it a no-go. It was cheaper and more pleasant to take the longer route via DOH with QSuites.

  22. Also got the cancellation regarding MLE-HKG-DFW for my mid January maldives trip.

    Booked on AA miles for J class. DFW-DOH-MLE on Qatar. Was MLE-HKG-JFK-DFW in J class on Cathay and AA .

    Called AA quickly and they were able to put me on MLE-DOH-LAX-DFW on Qatar and AA. Center Qsuite

    Call AA quickly as I didn’t want to connect through Sri Lanka.

  23. I can understand high fares and odd timings being problematic, but why would less than daily frequencies be a problem? If anything wouldn’t it increase loads and yield because fewer seats per week would be available?

  24. EWR and SEA are really some loss. EWR is mostly packed with students from central and southern china towards NJ, PA and even DE while SEA are for students, high-tech workers and immigrants from asia, and is a future OW hub. I hope CX can at least return to SEA after AS join OW.

  25. @Mike C
    HKG/ADL is surviving as it is a cargo-heavy route, carrying fresh produce daily from South Australia to Hong Kong. It is also quite a popular passenger route with lateral thinkers from the eastern states positioning to ADL when more convenient SYD/MEL/PER CX departures are booked out.

  26. MLE is a huge loss for us. Have been trying to find flights for next spring for a number of months. The SEA loss is also a problem. Stocked up on AS points to fly YLW-SEA-HKG-MLE and now there is no way because both SEA and MLE are gone.

    Supposedly one will be able to fly TK. With the new YVR-IST route it appears on paper as a possibility. But then the reality of the “New Aeroplan” and its outrageous points for such a route becomes clear … and we might as well pay BA in cash.

    Gonna miss Rangali Conrad – have enough HH points for three weeks saved up. ;-(

  27. Regarding the awkward timing of the IAD flight — I always took it Sat nite/Sun morning (actually 01:30 Sunday) — generally, head straight north over the pole. And even in Fall or Winter, you’d experience this strange phenomenon of the sun rising for a few hours after departure and just hanging over the horizon before going back down and leaving you for another 10 or 12 hours, after pre-dawn arrival on Monday morning in HKG.

  28. I think everyone here is missing the bigger context: Hong Kong is getting integrated with mainland China, and as such, Hong Kong’s outstanding and unique role will be diminished and subject to Beijing’s tacit approval in all that it does.

    And the role of Cathay will closely mirror the fate of Hong Kong. CX only still exists because it has some cachet with with the mainland arbiters who are now fully in charge of everything that goes on in Hong Kong. As a mirror of this reversion to basics, CX will eventually retreat to flying only a handful of key strategic routes similar to circa 1999; in North America, this means JFK, LAX, SFO, and YVR.

  29. @MH HK-based carrier HX would become the only direct carrier of HKG-MLE as they also have mature network in mainland China. Transit passengers do help a lot for MLE. Profit time for HX!!

  30. @ Jason. Maldives is definitely a destination for wealthy tourists . Rather expensive and not for the average tourist from Asia. They have some many other low cost places on their doorstep like China , Vietnam ,Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia

  31. @Marco- Not sure where you live but many Hong Kongers would totally disagree with you . Hong Kong is still under one country -two systems and commercial decisions by CX have no relation to China exerting more pressure on Hong Kong in political and other matters .

  32. @ Experienced Traveller
    Agreed I can’t imagine a lot of Asian travellers would want to go to the Maldives when they could visit Phuket or Bali for a fraction of the cost
    I think it’s a bit naive to say commercial decisions of CX have no relation to China exerting more pressure… considering the CCP directly threatened for allowing staff to join protests

  33. I was honestly shocked and disappointed to hear about Cathay’s route cuts, although I can understand where they’re coming from. However, it’s hard to believe that this is a permanent thing, and not something temporary where it would resume in the foreseeable future.

    What really hurt the most was the fact that CX is cutting EWR from its network. I always thought the route was profitable given the proximity to Midtown Manhattan, along with expanding service in NYC.

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