Hong Kong COVID Restrictions Demoralizing Pilots


Some pilots for Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific say the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions they must endure are destroying morale and causing some to resign. According to a CNN report, quoting two disgruntled and anonymous pilots, the “inhumane” restrictions are affecting their mental health. “Even people in solitary confinement get half an hour, an hour of exercise a day, whereas we’re not allowed out of the hell hotel room,” quoted one of the pilots as saying. Hong Kong is largely COVID-19 free because of the highly restrictive measures it’s taken to keep the virus out of the city-state. Pilots are particularly affected by the restrictions and there’s one subset of Cathay pilots who essentially live inside hotel rooms from which they are not allowed to leave for weeks at a time. “The morale is all gone. All gone,” said one of the pilots.

The so-called “closed loop” pilots volunteer for the work. They get more money and other benefits but they essentially give up their freedom. Those pilots fly routes to “high risk” but lucrative markets like the U.S., U.K. and a dozen other places. They typically fly for a couple of weeks at a time and can’t leave their hotel rooms while on the road. On return, they have to quarantine in a Hong Kong hotel before heading home for yet another two weeks of quarantine. The airline admits fewer pilots are volunteering for the arduous duty and flights have been canceled. The alternative is reassignment to “low risk” destinations but, depending on their seniority, some pilots aren’t getting any pairings.

Cathay says it’s doing the best it can under the circumstances. In addition to bumping pay for closed loop pilots, it’s sending appliances, furniture and “care packages” to locked-down pilots. “We have done all we can to support our teams by managing what we can control, such as periods of free time after closed loop roster patterns, financial incentives and options to take extended leave of absence.”

Other carriers are modifying or even suspending service to Hong Kong. FedEx is closing its base there and housing pilots in other places, citing “pandemic requirements in Hong Kong,” and Swiss International Airlines stopped flying there because of the restrictions. Airlines that serve Hong Kong also face suspension when anyone on one of their flights tests positive on arrival. Air Canada was recently barred from flying there for two weeks after a positive test from one of its flights.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “Hong Kong is largely COVID-19 free because of the highly restrictive measures it’s taken to keep the virus out of the city-state.”

    How I wish the press, and aviation press even more, would stop parroting these outright lies and unscientific ‘facts’. By perpetuating these lies, you give credence to the idea that these stupid rules do anything at all. They only bring misery and suffering, and do nothing to stop respiratory viruses.

    • You’d prefer the “truths” told by ant-vaxxers and “there is no pandemic!” conspiracy theorists, no doubt

      • CNN viewer spotted. Hi Dan, I see you’ve been chugging the kool-aid. No one is denying anything here, but thanks for your over reaction, it says a lot about your mental state. Perhaps you should talk to normal people again (in person). Please show us some evidence that your mask did anything to even slow the spread. How two weeks flattened anything but the economy. How getting vaccinated has brought things back to normal. For homework – take Gibraltar with a 113% vax rate for example and tell us how effective this strategy is. Isolation IS super effective, is this your new strategy for the planet? Mkay, Now parrot us some big infection numbers, but please leave out the death rate. Then kindly STFU.

    • What do you dispute about the claim that Hong Kong is largely COVID-free?

      Check out ourworldindata dot org/covid-cases?country=HKG~USA . Look at the plot for “Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people”. Between 1 Sept and 19 Dec 2021, the 7-day rolling average of new confirmed cases ranged between 210 and 520 per million people in the USA, but between 0.25 and 0.91 per million people in Hong Kong. Confirmed COVID-19 Deaths? Between 2.3 and 6.4 deaths per million people in the USA, but just one death _total_ (about zero per million) in Hong Kong over the same Sept-Dec period.

      It seems entirely justified to call Hong Kong “largely COVID-free”. It seems reasonable for public health officers to regard flight crews returning from the US (and most other countries these days) as a huge COVID-19 infection risk, compared to the local population.

  2. “The so-called “closed loop” pilots volunteer for the work. They get more money and other benefits but they essentially give up their freedom._”

    Poor babies.

    • Have you spent days on end of hotel room incarceration? If not, shut the hell up, you know not of what you speak.

      • If I understand the story correctly, they are not incarcerated.

        This is Webster’s definition of incarceration:
        “confinement in a jail or prison : the act of imprisoning someone or the state of being imprisoned”
        Their situation is imposed upon them by their employer. If they find it unacceptable they should resign, as some of them have.

        The fact Dan L. hasn’t “spent days on end confined to a hotel room” is really beside the point. His point is these pilots volunteered and are being very well compensated. Turns out some of them have bitten off more than they can chew.

        FedEx did the right thing. They closed their Honk Kong base.

        • Incorrect. Throughout Asia, we are kept in our hotel room for the duration of our layover. Sometimes that can be days. Food, while available at certain times that doesn’t always allow for getting rest, is often very unhealthy.

          You need to understand it is not just Hong Kong, but pretty much all of Asia. To go days on end trapped in a hotel room with no provision to exercise or even get fresh air is ridiculous.

          As far as compensation goes, I can’t speak for Cathay, but I can speak for my airline, and we are not compensated additionally for being sequestered in our hotel rooms, nor is FedEx, our main competitor.

  3. The airline industry asserts that very few, if any covid-19 transmission occurs due to being on an aircraft. People are asking why and if there is any scientific evidence for this assertion. Perhaps it’s aircraft ventilation. Keeping a pilot in a hotel room would seem to go against the ventilation theory. One non scientific reason that I have heard is that people generally do not talk when on aircraft. When I was traveling on the airlines several times a week, I found that this was true. We hardly every spoke to our fellow passengers.

  4. We had the same procedures in place during my tenure flying in the Navy. It was called “deployment”. Not for weeks, but for months. And we knew what we were signing up for and received flight pay / hazardous duty pay as appropriate for our mission. These pilots did know what they were getting into before volunteering. And they can easily “opt out”. Not that easy in the Military.

  5. Sounds like these pilots chose the wrong mission.

    I respect and understand their hate, but this is what they signed up for and are being compensated for.

    With that said its a good case study on what bio-political totalitarianism would feel like.

  6. Cathay will soon become a shadow of its former self and will probably be replaced by the CCP as the preferred carrier in and out of Hong Kong. Just one of many of the elements that go into the takover of Hong Kong by the CCP. Not happy times for Hong Kong.