A couple of months ago, Cathay Pacific revealed that it would start hiring flight attendants from mainland China, and would provide all flight attendants with “culture training” on dealing with passengers from mainland China. We’ve now seen the airline start this process, so I think it’s interesting to cover what that looks like.
Cathay Pacific recruiting mainland Chinese crews
In June 2023, Cathay Pacific CEO Ronald Lam wrote a memo to employees, outlining plans to start recruiting flight attendants in mainland China:
“With the growing number of Putonghua-speaking customers, it has always been our intention to recruit a proportion of cabin crew from the Chinese Mainland after the pandemic. We plan to start the recruitment process of cabin crew in the Chinese mainland.”
Not only is the oneworld airline recruiting flight attendants from mainland China, but it’s also giving all flight attendants “culture training,” to make sure they treat mainland Chinese passengers with respect.
As reported by SCMP, the airline has now started the process of recruiting in mainland China. Cathay Pacific has received more than 2,000 applicants for these roles, and that has already been narrowed down to 600 candidates. The plan is to initially hire up to 300 flight attendants, so about half of the people who are currently in the running could get a job.
One thing that’s not entirely clear to me is if Cathay Pacific is setting up crew bases in mainland China, or if the airline is recruiting flight attendants in mainland China to move to Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific has historically had several crew bases outside of Hong Kong, given the high cost of living there. Cathay Pacific did close many of these bases during the pandemic, including all bases in the United States. It looks like that trend will now be reversed, at least in mainland China.
Then again, the initial recruitment event is happening in Shenzhen, just a short ferry ride from Hong Kong, so perhaps the plan is to have some flight attendants actually commute to Hong Kong.
Here’s what Lam had to say about the recruitment event that has just taken place:
“We are very encouraged by the response and the quality of the candidates interviewed today. We plan to recruit 200 to 300 mainland cabin crew this year and by 2025 we hope to increase the number to 1,000 to 2,000.”
It also remains to be seen if these flight attendants will exclusively work flights between mainland China and Hong Kong, or if they’ll be cycled throughout the network. For what it’s worth, when Cathay Pacific had US flight attendant bases, they’d exclusively work the ultra long haul flights between the United States and Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific’s motive for hiring in mainland China
Why is Cathay Pacific suddenly hiring flight attendants from mainland China? I think there are a few reasons, and the timing is no coincidence.
A few months ago, Cathay Pacific made global headlines, when flight attendants on a flight between Chengdu and Hong Kong were accused of making fun of Mandarin speaking passengers.
A flight attendant was caught on tape saying that Mandarin passengers “cannot understand the human language.” Furthermore, a passenger asked for a carpet (when they intended to say “blanket”), and the flight attendant joked that “if you cannot say blanket in English, you cannot have it… carpet is on the floor, feel free if you want to lie on it.”
Suffice it to say that this became a huge story (especially in mainland China), and Cathay Pacific immediately took action, and fired the flight attendants involved.
More broadly, Cathay Pacific has other motives for hiring flight attendants from mainland China. For one, Cathay Pacific’s percentage of passengers from mainland China has increased massively in the past several months, given how capacity constrained mainland Chinese airlines are (due to limiting bilateral flight agreements). Most international passengers from mainland China now need to connect elsewhere in order to travel abroad.
Lastly, Hong Kong is increasingly losing its independence from mainland China, and I imagine many businesses in Hong Kong will cater more and more to those from mainland China. Also keep in mind that Air China is Cathay Pacific’s second biggest shareholder.
For what it’s worth, Lam insists that this recruitment drive isn’t due to the recent event, but rather due to the carrier’s goal of being more inclusive:
“The reason we have decided to recruit cabin crew from mainland China is because increasingly we have more and more flights between Hong Kong and the mainland, and more customers from the mainland. It is therefore natural for us to expand our team of cabin crew to include candidates from the mainland. We believe this will make our organisation even more diverse and in a better position to serve our customers from different backgrounds.”
Cathay Pacific has started recruiting flight attendants from mainland China, and is also giving all flight attendants culture training. This comes as the airline is seeing a big uptick in passengers from mainland China. On top of that, it also follows Cathay Pacific landing itself in quite some controversy, following an incident where a crew was disrespecting Mandarin speaking passengers.
The airline has now held its first recruitment event in Shenzhen, and should shortly be hiring hundreds of flight attendants from mainland China.
What do you make of Cathay Pacific hiring flight attendants from mainland China?