Cathay paying pilots extra to fly to China

Cathay paying pilots extra to fly to China

Financial sweetener is compensation for inconvenience caused by zero-Covid compliance

Travellers check in for a Cathay Pacific Airways flight in the departure hall at Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 8. (Bloomberg Photo)
Travellers check in for a Cathay Pacific Airways flight in the departure hall at Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 8. (Bloomberg Photo)

Cathay Pacific Airways is dangling allowances of up to HK$5,000 (US$640) a flight as a sweetener for pilots rostered on to fly in and out of mainland China, with ongoing Covid-19 curbs making it less appealing to work those routes.

The Hong Kong-based airline’s dedicated Chinese mainland operations have “been particularly onerous”, the company acknowledged in a memo that was distributed to pilots on Thursday and seen by Bloomberg News.

China remains wedded to its strict zero-Covid policy, which has left it largely closed off from the rest of the world more than two years into the pandemic. Sudden lockdowns of major cities aimed at quashing relatively minor outbreaks is weighing on the economy.

Crew and airlines routinely experience hours-long delays after arriving at Chinese airports and extended waits to return to Hong Kong as health officials take samples from the plane. In some destinations like Chengdu, crews must wear protective bodysuits while in-flight.

The situation is also complicated by the fact that cabin crew and pilots on China routes are required to have not flown anywhere else globally in the past 14 days — in order to restrict transmission of Covid — a rule that means certain staff are restricted to just operating flights to and from China.

“Not only do we continue to review our practices and our allowances as the situation evolves, we also consider the feedback that you provide,” the Cathay memo said.

The airline noted it had offered a range of payments including quarantine and closed-loop allowances, plus a completion payment for the latter. Cabin crew, as of Friday, weren’t being offered additional payments, according to four people familiar with the matter.

“We are acutely aware that the difficult operating environment, which has continued for far longer than any of us could have anticipated, remains,” the memo went on to say. “Our work with the government to have all restrictions lifted continues unabated.”

Representatives for Cathay didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The payments will be triggered after competing the inbound portion of the flight to Hong Kong from China. It involves HK$5,000 for captains on Boeing 747 freighters and payments vary by fleet and rank.

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