Cathay Pacific Exempts Business And First Class Passengers From Masks While Reclined Flat

According to an internal memo Cathay Pacific now exempts business and first class passengers from wearing masks while in their seats in lie-flat mode.

The airline told Executive Traveller, “seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep.”

Cathay Pacific First Class Bed

Modern aircraft are among the safest indoor environments, as a result of downward air flow, regular outside air exchange, and HEPA air filtration. Combined with greater distance and passengers lower to the cabin floor while sleeping, Cathay Pacific is probably right that risk is minimal (though it’s not zero). And they want to offer premium passengers as close to a good sleeping experience – the reason for buying up to premium seats on long haul – to attract their business which is on a knife’s edge.

Cathay Pacific Business Class Cabin

Carriers that don’t block middle seats argue HEPA and other aircraft protections are enough with masking and blocked middle seats don’t provide enough distance to be prophylactic anyway. However here Cathay Pacific says a center divider between middle seats in business class is enough if you’re lower to the cabin floor that masking is unnecessary.

Covid-19 does spread on planes but it’s rare. Low quality masks that meet the minimum standard required probably don’t contribute much to overall safety. Sleeping without a mask on, with distance and barriers between passengers and with downward air flow, frequent air exchange, and good air filtration is probably just fine. It’s not 100% protection, but masking doesn’t make for 100% protection either.

Still, it’s awkward to allow some passengers to take their mask off inflight and not others. What about those who have already recovered from the virus or have been vaccinated? Neither of those is a guarantee against infection, re-infection or spread but it reduces the likelihood, just like greater space in the cabin and downward air flow.

Perhaps a class of service-based exemption is more tenable than a vaccination one because people who aren’t exempt won’t see those who are taking off their masks inflight.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not that I expect there is much travel to the US, but I don’t think that would meet the terms of the US mask mandate on all conveyances traveling to our from the US. There didn’t even seem to be an exclusion for cruise ship passengers in their cabin, and the Alaska Ferry system says the Federal rules apply.

  2. This policy will (literally) never fly on flights to the United States, but we definitely need more maskless passengers to prove that masks do nothing on airplanes. It’s only through reasonable experimentation that knee jerk, fear-induced rules can be rolled back by reality. Like we’d probably all still be in lockdown if not for a few governors who said “this is stupid and useless.”

  3. “Like we’d probably all still be in lockdown if not for a few governors who said “this is stupid and useless.”

    I mean, we would also not be in lockdown if more governors initially did not say that. I get that its Garys blog so we need to pretend we’re victims of the evil government, but mocking mask mandates is just dumb at this point.

  4. The mask mandate is extremely difficult to monitor in the premium cabins – very easy to take the mask off, turn on one side, and cover yourself with the blanket.
    A little guilty of this.

  5. I’ve flown a lot of long haul with the mask rule, and in a lie-flat, yeah, you just sort of hide the fact that your mask is off.

    never had an issue.

    Glad to see airlines publicly saying this is ok. Will be glad when all the nonsense mask rules go away. Still haven’t seen a single peer reviewed study that they have done anything *shrug*

    I wear mine as little as possible, it’s dirty and disgusting and most people in the world seem to be doing the same (aside from the people in Western Europe and the US/Canada – who seem convinced the best thing in the world to live a fruitful life, is to be terrified of everything nature throws at them)

  6. Cambodia open? Technically, yes, but with prior to departure visa issuance, PCR test within 72-hours of departure, $2,000 cash deposit and $50,000 medical insurance requirement valid in the country, coupled with a 14-day quarantine, I don’t consider that “open.”

  7. Nope, bad idea. A reason not to fly Cathay. I get that many of you don’t like masks but they do work. Masks don’t do much to protect yourself, it is the mask the infected person is wearing that protects you. Since there are covid carriers on planes (indicated by the testing showing a few every day entering Hong Kong) and no one knows who they are, it is safer if everyone wears a mask. I’m planning a trip to the US in business class next month but I’ll be avoiding CX – I’d rather be uncomfortable than infected!

  8. I think I’ll be wearing a mask anyway. I always wear a sleeping mask, and a surgical mask just isn’t much more trouble. All this opposition to mask wearing is noise.

  9. Whether it’s a bad idea or not, as to US regulations we all know how effective that “no congregating because terrorism” announcement always was. The FAA will say their piece, but there seems little stomach for enforcement action against a foreign airline in international airspace. It is expensive to litigate, and the fact that a Chinese airline is in question will surely amplify tensions, both racial and diplomatic, all the more.
    Don’t get me wrong, I favor the mask mandate, and I wouldn’t be taking off my mask on Cathay, even if it were allowed. But the FAA has a credibility problem with airlines and with passengers–the term paper tiger certainly comes to mind in this particular segment of their operations.

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