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 resignations.
Cathay Pacific Airways last week fired three pilots who breached company rules by leaving their hotel rooms during a layover in Frankfurt and later tested positive for COVID-19.
The government responded by forcing more than 270 people, including school children linked to their families, into tiny quarters at a state quarantine camp.
Some pilots declared themselves unfit to fly 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 have begun unwinding strict layover policies but the Hong Kong government is tightening rules further in line with China, hoping to convince Beijing to allow cross-border travel.
“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 toll.”
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 by as much as 58 per cent.
Extreme stress is a significant issue in an industry where any sign of psychological problems can make it difficult to get another job.
“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 October.
“Regrettably, the incident in Frankfurt has affected current sentiment,” the airline said.