Cathay Pacific announced that it is cutting its fifth freedom flight from New York (JFK) to Vancouver early, leaving less than two weeks for flyers to experience this journey. Originally announced to end on 28 March 2020, the 24-year-old route will now end on 18 February 2020, as reported by One Mile at a Time. Could the bumped route termination reflect greater financial issues for Cathay Pacific?
Overview of fifth freedom flights
Airlines based in one country can fly passengers between two other countries if they have fifth freedom rights. This allows airlines to expand into international markets without needing to depart or arrive in the airline’s primary country of operation.
Routes like Cathay Pacific’s New York to Vancouver flight originally served travelers between the USA and Canada as well as those wishing to fly New York to Hong Kong. However, it is evident when viewing the flight schedules that the main purpose of this tag flight was to provide a route between New York and Hong Kong:
- CX865 JFK to Vancouver departing 20:35 and arriving 23:45
- CX865 Vancouver to JFK departing 1:15 and arriving 7:10
A Bittersweet Farewell
The route, established in 1996, has failed to maintain stride with airplane technology. Prior to 2004, the Vancouver to New York flight was a necessary tag flight as Cathay Pacific had not yet introduced its direct Hong Kong-New York route.
Today, Cathay Pacific flies directly between New York and Hong Kong on the following flights:
- CX845 JFK to Hong Kong departing 00:45 and arriving 05:40 (+1 day)
- CX841 JFK to Hong Kong departing 9:00 and arriving 14:15 (+1 day)
- CX831 JFK to Hong Kong departing 3:50 and arriving 19:05 (+1 day)
- CX899 Newark to Hong Kong departing 1:00 and arriving 5:30 (+1 day)
Now Cathay flies direct, there’s no need for the tag flight. Photo: Cathay PacificCompared with the original route to Hong Kong that was dependent on the JFK-Vancouver leg, the direct flights provide more convenience to Cathay Pacific’s customers through faster flights, more departure and arrival times, and the exclusion of a layover in a third country.
Speaking to Simple Flying in September, Cathay Pacific noted that the JFK-Vancouver route was no longer profitable to the airline. Additionally, the recent coronavirus outbreak that has caused Cathay Pacific to slash the capacity of flights to and from mainland China by 50%.
More than the fifth freedom flight end?
It’s possible that termination of the JFK-Vancouver fifth freedom flight might be part of a larger corporate overhaul. Cathay Pacific recently asked all 27,000 of its employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave during the second quarter of 2020.
While the airline recovered from its HK$1.2bn loss in 2017 over the course of 2018 (net profit $HK2.3bn), according to Financial Times, and the first half of 2019 (net profit $HK53.5m), the prolonged Hong Kong protests in late 2019 reduced Cathay Pacific’s ability to maintain normal functions.
With slashes to the airline’s routes, mass unpaid employee leave, and external factors such as political unrest and health epidemics, Cathay Pacific’s early closure of its New York-Vancouver route might mean that the airline is facing significant financial issues.
Simple Flying has reached out to Cathay Pacific for comment, and will update the article with any responses.