Cathay Pacific said it will fly a “skeleton passenger flight schedule” in January and has cancelled all cargo flights through at least Jan. 6.
The airline’s announcement followed the Hong Kong government imposing restrictive COVID-19 rules on flight crew returning to Hong Kong. Returning crew will now be required to quarantine for three days in a designated hotel regardless of whether they test positive for COVID-19 or not.
In a statement posted on its website, Cathay said the “tightening of aircrew restrictions” limits its ability to “operate flights as planned.” There will be “significant changes to our flight schedule,” the carrier said, adding that very few flights will be operated this month.
The latest crackdown by Hong Kong authorities comes as Cathay fired two pilots, including one who has been publicly blamed for introducing the omicron variant of the virus to the city. The pilots operated a cargo flight from the US to Hong Kong, tested positive for COVID-19, and then allegedly breached quarantine rules. One of the pilots allegedly dined in a crowded restaurant that Hong Kong health officials have tagged as the site of an omicron outbreak.
Cathay said it was “extremely disappointed” in the pilots.
Even if restrictions are lowered for flight crew in the coming weeks, Hong Kong requires a mandatory 21-day quarantine in designated hotels for passengers arriving from a long list of countries, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany and the US, among others. This has cratered Cathay’s passenger demand. The 21-day quarantine rule applies even to vaccinated travelers who have tested negative for COVID-19.
In November 2021, the latest month for which Cathay’s passenger numbers are available, the carrier operated just 12% of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity. And many of the flights it does operate are lightly populated; November’s average passenger load factor was only 26.8%.
The new limitations on flight crew could be particularly harmful to an already struggling Cathay, which has been relying on a robust cargo schedule to generate revenue.