Cathay crew see red over turnaround 12-hour shifts
Niall Fraser and Jennifer Ngo
Many Cathay Pacific cabin crew are finding it difficult to cope with the increasing number of turnaround, overnight 'red-eye flights' that involve working up to 12 hours straight, according to the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union.
A union survey last month revealed that about 70 per cent of the 1,900 cabin crew surveyed said they found red-eye flights exhausting, and that it was difficult to keep alert, especially on the return trip.
Julian Yau Chi-hung, vice-chairman of the FAU, said such flights, where cabin crew had just about an hour between flights, were on the rise at Cathay Pacific. There were only two such flights a day last year. But the number rose to six a day by the beginning of this year and was up to nine a day now.
'We are worried for safety reasons. If flight attendants are not on full alert during the flight, it may jeopardise the safety of both the crew and the customers,' Yau said. The increase may also affect the quality of service, he said.
In the past, red-eye flights were usually on routes to Jakarta and Singapore, but Yau said flights to Japan and Korea now also had such schedules, where cabin crew had to fly there and back in the same shift.
The union urged the Civil Aviation Department to look into the situation, with 20 union members staging a protest march yesterday.
Yau said he wondered if Cathay Pacific's recent cost-cutting had made it decide to save money by cutting back on overnight rest for crews overseas.
'While this is legal, we've had many cabin crew tell us how tough it is. I think [the company and the government] should listen to our voices and concerns,' he said.
A flight attendant who gave her name as Kwan said red-eye flights 'go against a person's normal daily cycle, it disrupts any schedule'. It could be difficult to cope, especially if the flights were full.
The hardest part of red-eye flights was to stay alert.
Cathay Pacific said no cabin crew had to fly more than one such turnaround flight a month. After returning to Hong Kong, the operating crew would have the rest of the day off as well as the next day.