Dozens of cabin crew staff who were on three Cathay flights found carrying depleted oxygen bottles have been suspended pending an investigation, the Post has learned. In a memo to staff on Monday, the airline announced stricter security protocols that require employees to conduct detailed checks on aircraft at least every 60 minutes between services, said Jeanette Mao, the airline’s general manager of in-flight service. The memo was released as Cathay Pacific investigates three cases of oxygen bottle tampering last month, the most recent on August 31. The Civil Aviation Administration of China has joined Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department and police in investigating the oxygen bottles, according to the internal memo. All cabin crew on the flights involved will be temporarily placed on the code DA while the investigation is conducted Internal memo “The company is taking this issue very seriously and all cabin crew on the flights involved will be temporarily placed on the code DA while the investigation is conducted,” the document read. Airline staff said code DA referred to employees put on “duty to be assigned”, which was described as effectively a suspension. Three sets of flight attendants have been suspended, amounting to about 40 staff. This comprised two Cathay Pacific crew operating the Hong Kong-Toronto route and staff on a Cathay Dragon plane on a flight from Bali. In a statement, a Cathay spokeswoman confirmed staff were suspended from flight duties to help with investigations. The move to enhance its preflight checks reflected the airline’s efforts to bolster safety and security amid the ongoing probe. “Recently, we have further strengthened our security measures to now include preflight, in-flight and post-landing checks for every flight to ensure all emergency equipment is serviceable so that the safety of our crew and passengers is upheld at all times,” the airline spokeswoman said. The internal memo also said ground staff, caterers, cleaners, engineers and other relevant parties would fall under the scope of the investigation. Mao introduced a new policy called the “In-flight Cabin Monitoring Programme”, which she said would take effect immediately. “Cabin crew are required to carry out checks in the cabin, lavatories and crew rest compartment at least every 60 minutes between services, ensuring no suspicious activity,” she said in the memo. The airline also said it would enhance its procedures with emergency equipment checks before every flight and at the end of every flight after passengers had left the plane. A Cathay flight attendant, who wished not to be named, described the new security regime as “mental torture” which added to pressure already faced by frontline staff. “Sometimes when we are busy, people might not remember it has already been an hour,” the attendant said. On August 17 and August 18, two Cathay Pacific flights from Hong Kong to Toronto were found to have a total of 13 empty and partly empty bottles of oxygen . A third flight, this time on the carrier’s sister airline Cathay Dragon, was found to have a single empty bottle of oxygen ahead of take-off to Kuala Lumpur. It had operated a service to and from Bali, Indonesia, the previous night. Cathay Pacific reminds staff of policy to act as ‘whistle-blowers’ On the Cathay Dragon flight, the returning Bali cabin crew found the oxygen bottles to be in good working order during post-landing checks, and left the plane overnight at Hong Kong International Airport for the new crew to operate to Kuala Lumpur. Sources said that placed the suspicion on ground-based staff. Oxygen bottles are used by the crew to move around the cabin in the rare event of an emergency depressurisation. After the third incident – and despite the blaze of publicity surrounding the first two – the airline sought the help of Hong Kong police and the city’s aviation regulator. In a detailed set of instructions issued on Monday, cabin crew were told to check three areas of the aircraft. Flight attendants were asked to be “extra vigilant” with the emergency equipment stowage area, where up to 22 oxygen bottles are also stored across the aircraft. Staff were told to look for “abnormal smells, noise or temperature” in the cabin and in the crew rest compartment. Cathay Pacific staff warned over social media use and protest support For passengers, crews were also told to enforce the “proper” stowage of personal electronic devices, manage passenger consumption of alcohol, check for passenger behaviour and possible disputes. They were also asked to monitor passengers with health or medical issues and ensure travellers complied with the non-smoking policy. Staff were also told to check the toilets to ensure paper and waste were disposed of correctly, spot for “signs of tampering” with smoke detectors and other “deviations” of passenger smoking, and keep the toilet floor dry to prevent slippage. There was no indication the three oxygen incidents were linked to recent events embroiling the company. Turmoil at Cathay started with airline staff strongly supporting the anti-government protests. As a result, the carrier became the highest-profile casualty among Hong Kong businesses initially declining to take action over staff support of protests in the city. The mainland Chinese aviation regulator issued it a safety warning and barred any of its staff who supported or were involved in the unrest from entering Chinese airspace. The pressure exerted by Beijing culminated in the resignations of CEO Rupert Hogg and chief customer and commercial officer Paul Loo Kar-pui. The company has since offered repeated public backing for the Hong Kong government. All government branches, including judiciary, must help stop Hong Kong violence: Beijing New CEO Augustus Tang Kin-wing, 60, will be under pressure to identify the culprits of the oxygen failures at a time when scrutiny by the Civil Aviation Administration of China has deterred mainland citizens and businesses from travelling with Cathay, despite the airline’s highly regarded safety record. The 60-year-old’s appointment has been a baptism of fire as Tang enforced a crackdown on staff conduct, overseeing scores of dismissals, while trying to meet CAAC demands and defuse the regulatory pressure on the business. In a separate memo to staff on Monday, CEO Tang said August revenue — Cathay’s busiest month for travel – was “hit hard” because of the Hong Kong situation. He also said advanced bookings were “softer than we would expect over our traditional shoulder season”. Student leader among three more activists rounded up in Hong Kong Hinting at the airline’s strategy to stem the decline in passenger travel, which is widely expected to merge less busy flights and temporarily reduce the frequency of busy routes, including in mainland China, Tang said his sales, revenue management and planning teams were working around the clock to “ensure we realise the optimal mix of capacity, yield and load factor.” The Cathay Pacific Group comprises its eponymous flagship brand, operating mainly long-haul flights, regional carrier Cathay Dragon, budget airline HK Express and cargo unit Air Hong Kong.