Cathay Pacific Staff May Be Required To Get Vaccinated

Similar to the news from the CEO of Delta Air Lines, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific will also be requiring pilots and cabin crew to be vaccinated if they wish to continue flying internationally for the airline. However, unlike Delta, the airline has zero domestic flights, meaning that Cathay Pacific’s aircrew will need to be vaccinated or else find another job.

Cathay Pacific Staff May Be Required To Get Vaccinated
Cathay Pacific, a Hong Kong-based carrier, has no truly domestic flights. While it is a special administrative region of China, there is still technically a border. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Being vaccinated will be essential

While it’s not a requirement yet, the Director of Flight Operations at Cathay Pacific said in a memo that getting a jab could soon be an essential requirement of the job.

“Based on our operational modelling it is clear that it won’t be long before we are unable to sustainably roster unvaccinated crew. As such it looks increasingly likely that in the future being vaccinated will be an essential requirement of the job for any Hong Kong-based aircrew. – Chris Kempis, Director of Flight Operations, Cathay Pacific via South China Morning Post

While it’s not mandatory just yet, Kempis highlighted in the memo the long lead time required to recruit and train replacement crews. Therefore, the airline “may be rapidly approaching this decision point.”

Cathay Pacific Staff May Be Required To Get Vaccinated
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian recently said in an interview that his airline’s international crews would require vaccinations. This would make scheduling easier as some countries would require the shot. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Kempis also noted in the memo that “It is up to an individual whether they wish to be vaccinated or not, so any decision to make vaccination a prerequisite for continued employment would not be undertaken lightly….”

A Cathay Pacific spokesperson confirmed with Simple Flying that it is aircrew to get vaccinated as soon as possible, “as it is becoming increasingly clear that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will need to be one of the prerequisites to being employed as aircrew in international operations.”

The spokesperson also notes that the airline’s operational mitigations to the changing quarantine and test requirements have enabled them to keep flying. However, these patterns, while still required, are not sustainable in the long term, from both a well-being and a rostering perspective.

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Vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) highlights that 80% of pilots have now booked or received a vaccination. However, as of last week, just 40% of the carrier’s cabin crew have done the same. 3,500 cabin crew have been partially vaccinated, while 2,000 have been fully vaccinated.

It’s unclear why numbers are where they are at the moment- whether it’s just a matter of time or if there is vaccine hesitancy among the remaining employees at the airline. Several media outlets have reported that just 16% of Hong Kong’s population has been at least partially vaccinated, with 11% now fully protected- far short of the 70% required for herd immunity.

For comparison, the Financial Times notes the following rates (for at least partial vaccination):

  • Israel: 60%
  • UK: 55.4%
  • US: 48.5%

The low overall rate in Hong Kong has been attributed to vaccine hesitancy, with health and safety concerns as the main reasons.

Speaking for the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union, vice-chairwoman Amber Suen Tak-yin tells the SCMP that the carrier should recognize that getting a vaccination is “an individual decision,” adding:

“We disagree that the vaccination requirement should be a condition and people have different conditions that make them willing to take a vaccine or not…We do not wish the company to cut costs by pressuring people to get vaccinated or face losing their job.”

Cathay Pacific Staff May Be Required To Get Vaccinated
airBaltic has begun to rehire its aircrew. However, vaccinations are mandatory to resume work. Photo: airBaltic

More airlines likely to follow

Delta Air Lines and airBaltic have already come out with their own requirements around aircrew and vaccinations. And as governments continue to reshape and define their international travel policies to accommodate vaccinated travelers, even more airlines will likely follow suit.

Therefore, it’s also probably we’ll be seeing pushback from some segments of airline workforces, who are still hesitant to get the jab.

Where do you stand on airlines requiring mandatory vaccinations for aircrew? Let us know in the comments.