When Your Cathay Pacific Flight Attendant Used To Work For US Airways…

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

One of my favorite aspects of flying with the Gulf carriers is that they have cabin crew from all over the world. So while I find that Gulf carriers sometimes don’t have the best service (there’s huge inconsistency), I’m always fascinated by the crews and learning where they’re from.

For most other airlines in Asia, crews are typically from the carrier’s home country. As far as I know, all Thai Airways crews are based in Thailand, all EVA Air crews are based in Taiwan, all Singapore Airlines crews are based in Singapore (though are often from all over the place originally), etc.

That’s an area where Cathay Pacific is unique among airlines in the region. Hong Kong is an outrageously expensive city, so wages for their crews (both pilots and cabin crew) are fairly high. As a result, Cathay Pacific has crews based all over the world. For example, last I heard they had over 400 cabin crew based in the US (they also have a significant number of pilots based in the US).

I just flew from Hong Kong to Los Angeles (thanks to those who were concerned about my health — I’m starting to feel better and am not contagious anymore, and would like to finish recovering in the US). What was most memorable about the flight (since I tried to rest for most of it) is how almost the entire crew was based in North America — the pilots were based in Los Angeles and Vancouver, while the flight attendants were Los Angeles based (there were also some Hong Kong based ones onboard, but not in first class).

One of the first class flight attendants even used to work for US Airways. How interesting it must have been to go from working for US Airways (let’s keep in mind this is the “full service” airline that tried to eliminate free soft drinks in economy at the time) to working for Cathay Pacific, where you’re pouring nice champagne and caviar.

On one hand I love the general diversity of where the crews are based, though in my experience the North America based crews just can’t compete with the Hong Kong based crews in terms of how polished they are. There are a few exceptions (on both sides), but there’s something I still find fascinating about them. If nothing else, I love hearing the stories of the US based crews — many of them don’t live at their base, so they commute (the flight attendant taking care of us lived in Arizona and commuted), and they also only ever fly a single route. Could you imagine only ever flying Los Angeles to Hong Kong? That’s not a lot of variety…

I should mention that even many of Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong based cabin crew commute. Many of them live in the Philippines, Thailand, etc., and commute to Hong Kong for work.

Really what I get most excited about is the US based pilots, and maybe that’s just my inner kid talking. When I was a kid I wanted to be an airline pilot so badly, and it was always my dream to work for Cathay Pacific, since I loved the brand and knew that they had pilots based in the US. So every time I’m on a Cathay Pacific flight and hear the welcome from the cockpit with an American accent, I can’t help but think that could have been me.

Oh well, I guess my life doesn’t suck too much, being seated one row behind the cockpit… 😉

Have you flown with one of Cathay Pacific’s foreign-based crews? What was your experience like?

  1. How does the commuting work?

    The crews from Thailand fly on their own dime? Then stay in hotels for a day in Hong Kong on their own dime? Or just have a cry long day?

    Did you see the story about 100 United pilots showing up for the funeral of the girl that was shot in. Florida. It’s sad people wake up and want to do something only when it affects them personally. It’s too late no credibility any more.

  2. I’d also be interested to understand more about how crew commute. Surely they wouldn’t fly same day from BKK or MNL then operate a 12+ hour flight? Out of interest, are the US based cabin crew all sorts of nationalities/backgrounds or do they tend to hire US crew of Asian descent?

  3. Reverse rostering is common in the industry. Your first and last flight is operating from/to your foreign base.

    Example: They begin duty by operating the flight to HKG, then rest days in HKG before potentially operating elsewhere returning to HKG like regular crew.

    At the end of their line of work, they finally operate again back to home base to have a string of days off at home.

  4. These crew have a foreign base, it’s different to a commuting contract where you commute from wherever you want on the network, then operate several long haul trips before commuting somewhere.

    Korean Air does this as an example:

    11-13 days off in a row wherever you want on their network. Pilots ‘live’ in the Grand Hyatt Incheon between sets of days off.

    Yes this is tiring. They guarantee business class if going TO work, but only economy if going back home.

    Used to be guaranteed First both ways!

  5. SIN/BKK are reasonable hubs for CX and have numerous flights to/from those cities. The crew based in these cities such as SIN/BKK are generally more junior/younger crew and pretty much only work regional flights within Asia – mainly the SIN-BKK-HKG “triangle”. They don’t commute to HKG and work long haul. The more senior HKG crew and UK/US/CANADA based crew make up the vast majority of long haul FA’s and tech crew. CX also has its own large hotel at Cathay City near the airport where crew can stay for a night if need be. There’s many pilots based in Australia too for CX in SYD MEL ADL PER BNE. They will commence a roster (for example) AUSTRALIA-HKG, then fly within Asia regionally for a few days then work a flight back to Australia. Then have about 8-10 days off before going again.

  6. I don’t think it’d be that terrible to only fly one route. It wouldn’t be much different than someone who is based in two places for work, and you’d still get flight benefits to travel when you’re not working. I wish you’d gotten more of the former US Airways FA’s backstory. I’d love to know how and why she transitioned. Did she lose all her seniority? How she compares both airlines’ employee cultures, etc.

  7. Actually Lucky in the mid-eighties when Cathay was rapidly expanding, they ended up enticing a high number of Royal Canadian Air Force pilots out of service to join Cathay. Their chief pilot is (unless he’s recently retired) Canadian and for a time, nearly 50% of their pilots were Canucks. I suspect that number has dropped in recent years. Pay until about 15 years ago in the Canadian Armed Forces, even for pilots, was quite miserable and despite the Queen investing a million dollars (three million today) per pilot in training over four years many were lured by a six-figure salary in 1980s and 1990s terms. I believe the stat the chief pilot gave me was that his graduating class of 1982 or 1984 saw almost 60% retire from the RCAF en masse the moment their terms of service were up to go fly commercially; the bulk to CX. While the North American crews are *based* in larger centres such as SFO, YVR, JFK, etc…, they reside all over the US and Canada. The chief pilot and his wife were from my current town, a small city of 44,000 people on the north shore of Lake Erie. He flies to YVR, JFK, or out of YYZ to pilot CX flights, spends anywhere from 36-48 hours on the ground in HKG and then returns. CX pioneered the international crew base concept and Gulf carriers adopted.

  8. Queueing for security in YYZ (CX flight) I chatted with my Toronto-based pilot. He said he was one of two. He was Canadian.

  9. I can comment on the “commuting” aspect. I have a close friend who works for a major Japanese airline, but is Korean and based in Seoul. I’m sure what Ben means by commuting is the FA will just work that connecting flight. For example an entire shift would consist of PHX-LAX and then LAX-HKG. It’s also possible Cathay has them deadhead that first connecting flight, but my friend doesn’t. She works Seoul to Tokyo, and then Tokyo onward.

  10. Friend used to do exactly what is referenced above. She worked for Emirates but was Thai. When she took vacation and went home, she worked the flight to BKK and then when she went back to work, she worked the flight to DXB. Makes perfect sense to me.

    I’m sure schedulers with airlines like EK and CX are used to this given the number of longer-haul flights on offer and crews from all over the place.

  11. CX (Cathay hired US Crew nearly a decade ago. They have a domicile in SFO and JFK and I’m guessing they added LAX). Cathay also recruits a lot of pilots so many of the pilots for Cathay in the US are based in NYC ORD ATL DFW LAX and a few YVR. A good friend of mine flew for a regional here in the US and was hired on the largely unknown side of the Cathay house – CX CARGO. Those pilots fly both boxes and passengers.

  12. Lucky.. I am a flight instructor based in Florida.. if you ever decide you want to get your pilot license…hit me up!

  13. you should check out how many pilots CX has in New Zealand

    We get told they are the second biggest employer of Kiwi Pilots

    I had neighbor in rural remote parts of NZ commuting and working for Cathay….
    I believe they all earn more than Air NZ so it is worth it

  14. Below are only talking about cabin crews:

    Cathay US based cabin crews require English and at least one Asian Language, therefore most of them are Asians. Not sure if my info is the latest, but for SFO, two flights are operated by HKG crews and one flight is operated by SFO crew. SFO and HKG crews don’t mix.

    Cathay Taiwanese crews based in HKG live in HKG and I have not heard of anyone commuting between Taiwan and Hong Kong.

    China Airlines have Japanese crews and a long time ago they used to base in Taipei. Looks like Japanese crews are now based in Japan? Japanese crews only operate between Taiwan and Japan, and Japan and Hawaii. China Airlines used to have a Singapore base and crews were based in Singapore. That base was later closed. At the time, Singapore crews operated Singapore-Taipei-US flight. Not sure why US.

  15. I’ve also been on an AA domestic flight where one of the flight attendants was formerly from Cathay. She told me that there is a formal program between the 2 companies that allow them to easily transition from one to the other.

  16. @Ben, first off, glad you’re feeling better. Hope you fully recover soon!

    That being said, Taiwanese airline EVA Air does have BKK based crews- because Bangkok is being used as a “branch hub” for 1 stop flights to selected destinations in Europe. One of the reasons why a stop in Bangkok is reasonable is because of more passengers and also because Taiwan does not have rights to fly over Chinese and Russian airspace.

  17. Many crewmembers commute between the city in which they live and the city in which they are domiciled, or ‘based’.
    I flew for Northwest Airlines for a decade and though I lived that entire time in San Francisco, I was based right out of training in New York, then moved to San Francisco, then Boston, followed by Detroit and then back in San Francisco again.
    Some base changes are required by the company, others take place at the request of the crewmember.
    So many pilots and flight attendants commute that most large airports are surrounded by apartment complexes where crewmembers sleep before or after their working flights. These apartments are often referred to as ‘crash pads’, or ‘stew zoos’. Up to a dozen people may share one small apartment or house – full of twin beds – with only one or two people usually on the premises while their room mates are either home on days-off, or are flying.
    In expensive New York I once shared a one-bedroom crash pad near LaGuardia with TWENTY fellow male crewmembers from various airlines. The bedroom and living room of the small house were filled with bunk beds. My share of the rent was $100 a month.
    It’s a whole different way of living…

  18. I live near Washington Dulles airport (United Hub) and work at a Marriott brand hotel on the weekends. We do see quite a few United pilots and cabin crew come in the night before they have to fly out to Tokyo, Beijing and even Frankfurt, Munich and early flight for London.

    They do have to fly standby on United and pay for the hotel out of pocket. They have a discounted rate for the hotel though but i still sometimes wonder if the cabin crew makes enough money that they can do this. Flying standby does work most of the times but sometimes they do end up flying other airlines on paid tickets when they can’t get on a United flight.

    We also have a few members of the cabin crew who do back to back west coast flights for several days. Then they get several weeks off. Its really a lifestyle if you are into it. We have one really nice flight attendant who drives hour and a half to get to the airport to take the flight to Dulles. Then spend the night at our hotel and fly out next day to Tokyo or Beijing.

  19. I haven’t flown Cathay in the past but having foreign-based crews is the norm for certain regions of the world. Living in the US with work and extended family in India, I’ve done my fair share of one-stop flights from JFK to DEL/BOM/BLR/MAA. As you’ve rightly pointed out that this practice is fairly common with the middle eastern carriers, it isn’t uncommon on carriers like BA or LH as well to have one or two India-based flight attendants on the ‘hub-India’ segments. On a recent flight from LHR to MAA, I was quite surprised to hear flight announcements in English followed by Tamil, a language spoken in just one state of India (Tamil Nadu). Of course, the the BA flight was flying to the the capital of Tamil Nadu but it was a nice local experience onboard an international carrier!!

  20. Damn…. it feels good doesn’t it???
    I recently flew EK F not the A380 and boy doesn’t it feel good. The pilot was from NY( I was flying to NY….what do you know??)

  21. then of course there is this:

    Long-distance commuting has raised safety concerns about whether flight crews are indeed reporting for work rested and ready. On Feb. 12, 2009, both pilots of Continental Connection 3407 had long commutes before reporting to Newark, N.J., where they began work. They may have rested only on couches in an airport crew room before crashing near Buffalo, N.Y. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled the crash, which killed 50, resulted primarily from pilot mistakes.

    “Each pilot made an inappropriate decision to use the crew room to obtain rest before the accident flight,” the NTSB said in its report on the accident.

    The captain, who lived in Tampa, Fla., apparently spent the night before the accident in the airline’s crew room. The first officer traveled all night on the day of the accident from Seattle on cargo flights. Investigators said neither pilot had any overnight accommodations in Newark. (Sleeping in the crew room is against most airlines’ policies.) The NTSB agency noted that 93 of 137 Newark-based pilots for Colgan Air Inc., which operated the flight for Continental, commuted by air to work.


  22. EVA has FAs who have Vietnamese names and the flag of Vietnam on their name tags. They may be based in Taiwan and have Taiwanese citizenship though.

  23. Tell us something we don’t already know. Where is the added value other than self-masti…, I meant, gratification?

  24. So, is this photo saying that you arrived at your seat with it looking like that, and some how, it is the ex-USAir flight attendant’s fault?

  25. Clickbait alert!!!

    Let me rehash the headline.

    When Your American Airlines “insert position here” Used To Work For US Airways…

    What is more interesting would be When Your American Airlines Used To Work For American Airlines before making flyers hate American West and US Airways…

  26. CX’s foreign cabin crew do not actually commute. As far as I know there are cabin crew from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and India. They are all based in HKG and CX provides them with accommodation/housing allowance, although these days CX rarely recruits HKG-based crew in those Asian countries any more, presumably because it costs more to the company. They get flights to their home port every month (overnight/turnaround), but their duty always starts and ends at HKG. Many of them tend to go home whenever they have a few days off though. Exceptions are the BKK- and SIN-based cabin crew, who mostly operate to HKG only.

    As for UK/Canada/US-based cabin crew, it is generally understood that the reason for opening such bases is to reduce the cost of HKG-based crew staying at hotels overseas. Foreign-based crew can stay at the CX in-house hotel, which is presumably much cheaper. Wages for HKG-based cabin crew are not that high, so that is unlikely to be a major reason for opening foreign bases.

    One reason why HKG- and foreign-based crew do not generally mix is that they have different promotion tracks. Promotion at the newer bases is (at least was) generally faster. There were reports of promotion to Flight Purser only months after joining as an entry-level flight attendant, when it would take many years for that to happen in HKG. The point here is that outport-based cabin crew in higher ranks may actually be much junior to HKG-based crew in lower positions in terms of experience.

  27. I will answer your questions, my fiancé is a Taiwanese CX crew and she’s going to be LAX based crew soon.

    – Do HKG CX Crew commute from other countries?

    Yes and no, CX offers certain flight patterns that crews can apply for, such as SYD scheme which you only fly HKG-SYD. This makes it easier for foreign based crews, such as Philippines, to go home and take care the family since you get more days off after long haul flight.

    CX used to offer 8 years guaranteed free housing in HKG, I think they cut that down to 5 years, so a lot of crews leave after 5 years since the rent in HKG is ridiculous and almost at SF level. Some of them try to do SYD or well scheme (work half a month, good for crews with young family) and commute from other countries.

    – LA based crew commute from PHX and other cities?

    Hardly. Most of them are based in LA. AA is pretty much always full and CX employees don’t get that high of standby priority on AA flights so there is a good chance they won’t make it to work if they commute from other cities.

    – what % of flights are operated by LA or LHR CX crews?

    I’d say about 30%, and they tend operate night flights since meal service is considered to be easier.

    On one hand, you don’t quite get the ‘Asian service’; on the other hand, these crews are very familiar with these flights so they are more efficient in many aspects. CX was never really known for its service, and service on night flights are hard to judge anyway since most people are somewhat asleep.

    US based crew gets paid very very badly (even less than HK) so they have been losing a lot of crews lately. These crews are offered the most basic form of insurance and no 401k. Only reason my fiancé is consider doing it is so she can see her family on a consistent basis.

  28. “Really what I get most excited about is the US based pilots….When I was a kid I wanted….an airline pilot so badly…”

    Enough said…

  29. I would say around 40% of the old contract long haul crews at BA commute. Most domestically via air, many also from the continent. In fact about fifteen years ago BA went on a european wide cabin crew recruitment drive hosting interviews in many different european countries selling the fact that you can live in your home country and commute to London for work.

    We also have international based cabin crew that only fly an individual route of a variety of routes and make up two to five of the cabin crew complement. BA just closed the GRU and EZE based. The current bases foreign bases they operate are:
    CAI & BAH – they often do trips of up to ten days departing their home base and flying patterns through LHR to KWI/BAH/AUH/RUH/JED/DOH/CAI
    DEL – DEL – LHR – DEL
    BLR – BLR – LHR – BLR
    MAA – MAA – LHR – MAA

    Commuting amongst the new contract crew is less common as they work a combination of long and short haul flights and receive less days off per month.

    There are also foreign crew based in PVG and PEK which work with the new contract crew as these routes are owned by them.

  30. We hads Northwest, Song, Pan-am, and Piedmont stewardesses when we flyed on Cathay Pacific. They were really good. None of the cheapo US peanuts, nickel /diming, or soda, or poor attitudes. We had great service, real food, and quality. Thank you.

  31. Glad you’re feeling better, Ben.

    Kind of pains me seeing you explain to the naggers and trolls that you’re not contagious and prefer to recover in the US, but I guess if I was in your shoes I wouldn’t want a brigade of freakazoids insinuating I was knowingly flying with the flu and spreading it.

  32. Taiwanese carries CI and BR have numerous Thai and Viet based crews. They sometimes serve mainly long haul flights as it is more costly to operate using Taiwanese cabin crews

  33. Hey Lucky. Did a doctor say you’re not contagious or did you work that out yourself? If by yourself that’s quite dangerous.

  34. One of my high school best friend is working for CX as a flight attendant and is Los Angeles base. He (not she) told me that he only need to work HKG-LAX, and here is the sweet point. He only work on the CX884 flight. Fixed route fixed flight, just not fixed days. How good is it?

  35. Regarding commuter pilots, there are also quite many of them who are not technically based outside the homebase but still commute privately. Especially longhaul pilots who only fly a couple of times per month sometimes commute from their actual home to their place of work. The difference is mainly contractual.

  36. @747always

    “Hey Lucky. Did a doctor say you’re not contagious or did you work that out yourself? If by yourself that’s quite dangerous.”

    I got the feeling Lucky self-diagnosed himself as not being contagious, just to appease his fanboys. The flu is contagious for about one week following the onset of symptons.

  37. Looking at the facts I think Lucky was still contagious. He shouldn’t have left Hong Kong until the end of Thursday to be sure.

    So selfish.

  38. @ Maria:
    Maria, why are you such a nasty pig? Homophobic comments. Rude comments about things you are totally ignorant of. Are you that miserable in your own life? Just sit down and STFU!
    This blog has some interesting information. We are lucky it is here. I have never understood all the animosity and hate in the comments on an airline points blog!! That goes for all of you commenters who just ooze negativity and anger. Get a grip on yourselves. There are bigger issues in the world to be sure.

  39. I flew on Cathay on an F award ticket from Boston to Hong Kong two years ago. On his way to the crew rest area, one of the flight crew stopped at my seat, addressed me by name, welcomed me aboard and apologized for the turbulence we were encountering.

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