Friday, December 14, 2012

Limited Service

Flight attendants for Hong Kong airline threaten to not smile or serve alcohol over pay dispute

Flight attendants at Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific Airways are threatening to withhold food, alcohol and even smiles from passengers during the Christmas holidays over a pay dispute, a union official said Thursday.

Cabin staff at the airline, which has a reputation for top-notch service, voted at a union meeting this week in favor of industrial action that could also result in flight delays.

The union is demanding a 5 percent pay increase but the airline, which is struggling to cut costs after posting a first-half loss of $120.5 million, has offered 2 percent and a 13th month bonus.

The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union will soon announce when the action approved in the vote will be carried out, General Secretary Tsang Kwok-fung said.

"We may not provide alcoholic drinks to our passengers, or we may not even provide meals to passengers," in which case the union would advise travelers to bring their own food and drinks, said Tsang.

Limited service could also include withholding smiles and greetings from passengers.

"We cannot smile because of the situation, because of how the company treats us," Tsang said.

The union is also considering working to rule, which involves doing no more than the minimum work required in contracts and precisely following safety regulations. Such tactics could include strictly enforcing size limits on hand luggage or waiting for all cleaning staff to leave the plane before boarding. The measures could delay flights by 20 to 30 minutes, Tsang said.

Some 1,600 of the union's nearly 6,000 members voted on Monday for 
industrial action after negotiations with the airline broke down.

The union is also considering a strike as a last resort, but not until the new year.

Cathay took out ads in Hong Kong newspapers on Thursday saying it's waiting to hear back from the union on an invitation to hold further talks. "We fully understand how important it is not to disrupt passengers at this busy time," the airline said.

The airline has "comprehensive contingency plans" to ensure normal operations over the holidays, Chief Operating Officer Ivan Chu said at a press briefing. He wouldn't give details.  

(Kelvin Chan/AP)

NOTE:  Sad, of course – not even to smile.  But I think I know how they feel at the moment, even though I shouldn’t read my (or anyone else’s individual) situation into theirs.

Two of my very best flights were on Cathay Pacific.  I wish I’d made the NY-Hong Kong run, but the flights to and from Vancouver were outstanding and my first experience of the exemplary on-board courtesy for which Asian air carriers are known.  The flights, in around 1995 I think, were also the first time I’d seen the air-to-ground mapping system telling you where you were in space.  Crossing the whole expanse of Canada – seeing all those rocks and that mountains and plains emptiness – and finding that much of the rugged faceless terrain actually had individual place names – was astonishing.   So also were the food, the comfort, the felicitous travel anticipations, and the friendly smiles.  Those flights were literally the highlight of the trip, which mostly involved a lot of walking in cold Vancouver rain and forcing smiles myself.


My absolute best flights were the ones on Asiana (the Korean airline) and Dragonair (a Cathay Pacific Asia-only subsidiary) we took during our trip to Wuhan, Guangzhou when Jane, Caroline and I became a family.  The kindness we were shown was, as they like to say these days (deficit spending words cheaply), transformative. They all lie sleeping upstairs and across the hall now and at this moment I can’t tell whether the string is tense or not and where the yoyo is on the spool.

But:  Hope springs eternal in the human breast;/Man never Is, but always To be blest:/The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home/Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

 Good luck, Cathay Pacific, all of you.  I wish you well.


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