• Graham

Cathay Pacific reduces mask rules - but only in Business & First Class!

While it's long been one of my favourite global airlines, this week's news out of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airlines is just plain baffling. Hong Kong itself has some of the strictest COVID-protection rules in the world, and its flag carrier has followed this policy since early in the pandemic, imposing strict mask requirements for all passengers over age two from curbside to terminal to aircraft and back.

...so it was a true surprise to see Cathay Pacific announce on Friday that it will now allow passengers in its Business Class and First Class cabins to remove their masks for hours at a time, as long as they're lying down. In other words, you can take your mask off to sleep, but only if your seat folds into a bed.

I'm not about to turn this into a rant on 'What You Should Do About COVID'.

I'm writing about this here partly because it's something you should be aware of if you're planning to fly Cathay, and partly to point out the kind of decisions airlines are making as they balance between health measures on board, and giving high-spending premium-cabin passengers every possible comfort.

Cathay's First Class suite. photo: Cathay Pacific

Letting passengers take their masks off may be a *different* risk in the part of the plane where passengers are already spaced further apart and separated by solid walls - I'll go so far as to say 'different' rather than 'safe' - and most modern airliners have hospital-grade HEPA air filters every few feet throughout the air conditioning system.

That's exactly Cathay's justification for the change: "Seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep,” a Cathay spokesperson said Friday. This view is shared by airlines like Qatar, who ask business-class passengers to wear masks "at their own discretion", while requiring Economy passengers to wear both a mask AND face shield except while eating or drinking.

For some travellers, this rule will be a welcome change and an incentive to fly Cathay, and for others it'll be exactly the opposite.