HONG KONG: Cathay Pacific is cutting back on both long- and short-haul passenger flights to Hong Kong next month to adjust for a looming staffing shortage over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
About a third of all inbound flights to the city in December will be converted to handle mostly cargo, the South China Morning Post has learned.
Outbound flights are expected continue operating as normal, with about 620 scheduled for next month.
"Operational and travel restrictions that remain in place continue to constrain our ability to operate flights," a company spokeswoman said on Thursday, referring to the city's ongoing anti-coronavirus pandemic measures.
"We are consolidating our passenger flight schedules for December 2021, including cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong."
The airline does not have enough pilots and cabin crew for so-called "closed loop" operations, meaning volunteer aircrew are needed for flying in and out of the city.
During the three-week shifts, they are confined to their hotel rooms between flights, then must quarantine for up to 14 days after returning home.
The airline said it was rebooking affected customers onto other airlines or routing them through airports where it would still be operating in December to ensure they could maintain their hotel quarantine bookings.
Travellers flying into Hong Kong need a confirmed hotel booking for either 14 or 21 days, and the city's 11,500 rooms are consistently sold out months in advance, making last-minute changes very difficult.
Cathay's anticipated cutback on flights, particularly from continental Europe, comes as Covid-19 rates are once again soaring there, with the unvaccinated bearing the brunt of the impact.
The airline's staffing woes also come in the wake of tightening of rules for aircrews exempted from quarantine after three pilots breached company protocol in Frankfurt by leaving their hotel rooms. The trio subsequently lost their jobs.
The event, which saw 150 Cathay staff quarantined at the government's isolation camp in Penny's Bay, sparked wider discontent over how the government has treated aircrew and growing reluctance by staff to operate higher-risk flights.