Hong Kong airlines Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon cut back on deep-cleaning schedules
Frequent Cathay Pacific traveller bemoans cleanliness standards, saying he now regularly wipes down his seat area
Travellers may notice on their next flight with Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon that their plane may seem a little less clean than usual.
Deep cleaning of aircraft cabins has been trimmed from once every 14 days to once in three to four weeks, the Post has learned from airline staff, in spite of Cathay Pacific winning a coveted “cleanest airline cabins” in the world accolade at an annual industry gala last summer.
Watch: A cleaning test on a Cathay Pacific flight
From one flight to the next, aircraft cabin seats, surfaces, the galley and toilets are always cleaned, but a deep clean tackles areas not visible to passengers.
The carrier denied the move was a cost-cutting measure, and said the changes would be monitored.
Rupert Hogg, Cathay Pacific’s chief operating officer and a director of Cathay Dragon, said he could see how “some people might think it is a cost-cutting measure but of course we have no intention of flying dirty aircraft”.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon said adhering to their fixed 14-day cleaning schedules had posed challenges due to individual aircraft taking unplanned maintenance breaks or planes being swapped between short-haul and long-haul flights.
Rival local carrier Hong Kong Airlines, by comparison, deep cleans its aircraft every 30 days.
The South China Morning Post reached out to other airlines about their cleaning habits, including Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and China Airlines, but none responded in the past week.
The deep-clean operation at present takes around three to four hours. It entails lifting up seat cushions and cleaning and disinfecting them as well as wiping and cleaning the seat frame. Seat backs, TV screens, plastic storage bins and tray tables are also cleaned.
Windows, closets and overhead bins are wiped, cabin crew galleys are more intensively cleaned and toilets are dismantled and thoroughly cleaned.
A frequent Cathay Pacific passenger who declined to be identified recounted a flight to Singapore this year in which his dirty meal tray table led him to wipe all the surfaces on his business class seat. Using the hot towel he was given upon boarding left it blackened.
“This experience has stuck with me, and now, much to my friends’ amusement, I go through a wipe-down ritual on every flight,” he said, noting that over the past 12 months his seat was “never clean”.
“As a premium traveller, the cost cutting on the premium product, particularly in the food and beverages, has been noticeable for some time, but the deterioration in cleanliness is really the last straw,” he added.
The Post’s research on two flights in business class on Cathay Pacific this month found one seat to Singapore was clean, and, on another to Bali, the towel was blackened after wiping.
An airline spokeswoman said the carrier planned “to increase the number of cleaning hours” in cabins. “We genuinely believe we can sustain the cleaning standards at a monthly interval by better use of the scheduled ground-time opportunities with a really thorough quality deep clean,” the airline said.
Airlines are required by law to maintain aircraft to sanitary conditions and conduct regular tests. Test results from 220 aircraft cleanliness inspections conducted by the Department of Health found cabins “in general” to be “satisfactory”
Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said: “To make a comparison on the risk of contamination of passengers and [hospital] patients in such environments, I think the passengers are not vulnerable in an aircraft and would not be as vulnerable to infection than patients in a hospital environment. There would not be an unusual exposure [to health] in an aircraft in the usual circumstances where regular cleaning would be sufficient.”