Cathay Pacific on Thursday said it will slash passenger flights into Hong Kong next month as the city’s strict travel curbs keep international travellers away while rivals see prospects improve.
Hong Kong has maintained some of the world’s harshest quarantine measures and travel restrictions during the pandemic, which has kept infections low but ensured a business hub that dubs itself “Asia’s World City” has been cut off internationally for the past 20 months.
The government has tied the city’s fortunes to China’s strict coronavirus strategy and said normalisation of travel with the mainland must come before any reopening to the rest of the world.
On Thursday, Cathay announced it was “cancelling a number of flights to Hong Kong” for December, citing “operational and travel restrictions that remain in place”.
Bosses have implemented a “closed loop” operation to reduce Covid-19 infection risks, where cabin crew and pilots work three-week shifts, during which they are confined to hotel rooms between flights.
After the shift ends, they must quarantine for another two weeks at home.
As the peak holiday season approaches, the airline will convert around one-third of “closed loop” flights bound for Hong Kong to cargo trips, the South China Morning Post reported, citing company sources and adding the airline faced a staffing crunch.
Outbound flights would remain unchanged for now, with about 620 scheduled in December, the report said.
Cathay’s statement did not detail how many flights were being cancelled.
Like most international carriers, Cathay has been hammered as the pandemic wipes out most international travel.
But the airline is especially vulnerable because it has no domestic market to fall back on, and is based in a finance hub that has embraced mainland China’s “zero-Covid” plan.
Rival Singapore Airlines is seeing flights and passenger numbers pick up as the city-state re-opens to the world after it abandoned a zero-Covid strategy.
Last week, Hong Kong authorities ordered more than 100 Cathay cargo crew into mandatory quarantine after three colleagues who stayed at the same layover hotel in Germany tested positive on return.
The three pilots were fired after a company investigation concluded there was an unspecified “serious breach” of requirements for the crew during overseas layovers.
The move underscored how Hong Kong’s strict anti-virus measures were making it harder for airlines to operate.
The restrictions last week forced global delivery giant FedEx to announce it was closing its crew base in the city and relocating pilots overseas.