* Three pilots fired last week for leaving hotel room on
* Hong Kong maintaining a strict zero-COVID policy
* Pilot resignations have risen in recent weeks-Cathay
Nov 26 (Reuters) - One of Asia's largest airlines, Cathay
Pacific, is facing a revolt from pilots who say Hong Kong's
tough quarantine rules under its zero-COVID policies are
endangering their mental health, leading to rising stress and
Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd last week fired https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/cathay-pacific-fires-3-pilots-infected-with-covid-19-layover-scmp-2021-11-18
three pilots who breached company rules by leaving their hotel
rooms during a layover in Frankfurt and later tested positive
The government responded by forcing more than 270 people,
including school children linked to their families, into tiny
quarters at a state quarantine camp https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-hongkong-families-idUSKBN2B711T.
Some pilots declared themselves unfit to fly https://www.instagram.com/p/CWr6BPRh8N9
for their first rostered duties upon release.
The extreme example of pandemic-related precautions under
China's zero-COVID policy highlights the difficult working
conditions facing Cathay pilots, all fully vaccinated, even as
other Asian countries slowly reopen.
Cathay rivals including Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd
have begun unwinding strict layover policies but the
Hong Kong government is tightening rules further in line with
the mainland, hoping to convince Beijing to allow cross-border
The stricter rules come amid mounting concerns over a newly
identified variant spreading in South Africa, which has been
also found in Hong Kong and Botswana and prompted several
countries to announce tighter broder controls and more rigorous
"I don't think I can keep this up," one Cathay pilot who
spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters. "Just the stress
of potential quarantine of my family and friends is taking a
Several other current and recently departed Cathay pilots
told Reuters morale was low and resignations were rising a year
after many had their pay permanently cut https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cathay-pacific-layoffs-idUSKBN2780L0
by as much as 58%.
Extreme stress is a significant issue in an industry where
any sign of psychological problems can make it difficult to get
"What's the risk if I say to them I'm a bit stressed?" asked
a pilot who has spent more than 200 nights locked in hotel rooms
away from Hong Kong since the pandemic began. "Does that affect
my medical? And then you leave here and they ask have you ever
been stood down for psychological reasons?"
The pilots also expressed frustration with the ambiguity of
some government-imposed pandemic-related rules. Pilots, for
example, are required to avoid "unnecessary social contact" for
three weeks after returning to Hong Kong, but they are not given
time off to compensate.
Cathay acknowledged to Reuters in a statement that pilot
resignations have risen beyond normal levels since the end of
"Regrettably, the incident in Frankfurt has affected current
sentiment," the airline said.
Hong Kong classifies many destinations including the United
States and Britain as "high-risk," meaning Cathay pilots flying
passengers inbound from those places are subject to two weeks of
To staff those flights, Cathay started running "closed-loop"
rosters on a voluntary basis in February involving five
consecutive weeks locked in hotel rooms with no access to fresh
air or a gym and then two weeks off at home.
"I did it to earn some money, since the 50% pay cut (last
year) made life much more difficult," said a recently departed
pilot who did two closed loops. "There are people currently in
their 5th or 6th closed loop."
Cathay said on Thursday some inbound flights during the peak
demand season of December would be cancelled, indicating a lack
The airline said it recognised the strain on its pilots and
had bi-weekly dial-in sessions to share concerns and programmes
like a peer-based pilot assistance network as well as offering
extended leaves of absence.
LEAVING HONG KONG
As conditions improve elsewhere in the world, other airlines
including Emirates and U.S. cargo carrier Atlas Air Worldwide
Holdings Inc are head-hunting Cathay pilots, said those
who spoke with Reuters.
Emirates, which has launched a recruitment drive for 600
pilots, declined to comment. Atlas did not respond to a request
The pilots Reuters spoke to said they expected more
resignations next year when transitional housing and schooling
Cathay said it would employ "several hundred" new pilots
and restart its cadet programme in the coming year.
Hong Kong's strict rules led FedEx Corp to close its
pilot base in the city last week, underscoring the dimming
allure of the territory as a major logistics hub.
"I really, truly feel for people that are at Cathay," a
FedEx pilot who recently left Hong Kong said. "I am genuinely
concerned about their mental health and how they are."
(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Miyoung Kim and