Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways has called off another 28 flights this week, with at least one travel agency saying earlier disruptions delayed the return home of some customers.
The airline, which had called off at least 40 other flights since Christmas Eve, on Monday said the cancellations were again related to “higher than expected pilot absence caused by seasonal illness on certain days”.
“Our operations remain normal overall, with a marked increase in the number of flights operated over the holiday peak season,” Cathay Pacific said.
A Post search on Monday night found that 28 flights between Hong Kong and six cities – Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Dubai, Delhi and Dhaka – had been cancelled over the next five days.
Cathay cancelled at least 16 flights, including long-haul ones to London and Amsterdam over the Christmas holiday. Subsequently, an additional 28 were called off in the run-up to New Year’s Eve. It said pilots taking sick leave was one of the reasons for last week’s cancellations.
“We have chosen to proactively cancel a small number of flights in order to ensure the successful delivery of our overall services,” the airline said on Monday.
The number of cancellations since mid-December was less than 1 per cent of all passenger flights operated, Cathay said, while apologising to passengers affected.
EGL Tours executive director Steve Huen Kwok-chuen said Cathay cancellations had affected two of the firm’s tour groups, pointing to flights from Beijing and Thailand to Hong Kong on December 29.
He said the airline notified the agency the night before departure and could not guarantee alternative flights.
“We proactively looked for other backup plans by checking if there were any seats on other airlines,” Huen told a radio programme.
Huen said the agency planned to split the group returning from Beijing in two, with one taking a direct flight and the other flying to Shenzhen before crossing the border.
But in the end the airline managed to arrange flights for both tour groups on December 29, although the travellers arrived in Hong Kong a few hours late, he said.
Despite the incident, Huen said his agency would not stop booking flights with Cathay. He said EGL had not received any notice of flight cancellations in the coming days.
A union representing Cathay pilots earlier said the flight cancellations stemmed from staff shortages caused by pandemic-related lay-offs, as the airline’s passenger operations still only had 52 per cent of the number of captains and first officers it had before the pandemic.
According to the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, Cathay had 2,532 pilots as of last month compared with 3,885 in the fourth quarter of 2019, just before the pandemic.