Cathay cancels more flights as dispute grows

HONG KONG, Reuters

Cathay Pacific Airways canceled more flights on Tuesday in an increasingly bitter labour dispute in which more than 50 pilots have been fired and the holiday plans of thousands of travelers disrupted.

With both sides showing no sign of backing down, businesses warned that the “work-to-rule” campaign of the pilots, now into its second week, was hurting Hong Kong’s tourist industry.

Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council, said that travel agents were reporting that many would-be tourists were canceling trips to the territory.

Some agents handling incoming tours said they had seen their business fall up to 40 percent and were also having to swallow hotel and other cancellation costs.

Passenger queues were shorter at Cathay counters at the airport compared to the large, unruly crowds at the weekend when thousands were stranded, mainly due to Typhoon Utor.

But most people arrived early, fearing sudden cancellations.

“I’m worried my flight will be canceled and that I may have to change to an earlier flight,” said Ko Hikino, a Japanese businessman scheduled to leave for Manila in the late afternoon.

Travel agents said travelers were steering clear of Cathay.

“People making new bookings prefer not to fly Cathay. Others who are booked on Cathay are asking us to make bookings with another airline just in case,” said travel agent Amanda Chan.

Cathay operated 114 out of 143 scheduled flights on Tuesday, with 11 delayed by 15 minutes or more. On Monday, 49 flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes.

“If this improvement continues, and that rather depends what the AOA (union) decides to do next, we will be aiming over the next few weeks to add additional flights so we can get back to our normal schedule,” Cathay’s director of corporate development, Tony Tyler, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Hundreds of Cathay flights have been delayed or canceled since pilots, fighting for higher pay and better working conditions, began a work-to-rule campaign last Tuesday, and the airline has been forced to lease 17 costly charter planes and crew to keep partial services operating.

The row escalated on Monday after Cathay sacked 49 pilots, three of whom were union negotiators, and imposed a new pay and rostering package unilaterally in a bid to force an end to the dispute. The airline, which fired three pilots last week, would not say how many of those sacked were union members.

Tyler said that the new pay and benefits package would cost the airline an extra HK$200 million (US$25.6 million) a year.