Culture of Fear at Cathay Pacific as Employees Rat Each Other Out for Protest Sympathies

Mainland China forced Cathay Pacific to fire its CEO, a scalp on the wall over the airline’s insufficient initial deference to the mainland during mass protests in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government placed onerous restrictions on the airline’s flying in order to pressure the carrier to purge employees sympathetic to anti-Beijing efforts.

These efforts worked. The airline got into line, and has been terminating employees with public sympathies out of step with those of The Party. And that’s instilled a culture of fear at the airline as employees have their social media accounts monitored, the minority of employees sympathetic to Beijing rat out their colleagues, and employees working flights to the mainland become concerned for their trip safety.

With hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers having participated in protests that naturally includes some of the more than 30,000 Cathay Pacific employees, some of whom continue to live a double life,

During the week, Ricky pilots passenger jets traveling around the world for one of Hong Kong’s flagship airlines, Cathay Pacific. But when the weekend arrives, he sheds his pilot cap and blazer in exchange for a face mask and helmet, and goes out to join the anti-government protests which have dominated the semi-autonomous Chinese city over the past four months.

“Fear is spreading,” Ricky says. “You can tell the company is being torn apart and starting to break down.”

Staff morale is at an all-time low, he says. Everybody is paranoid. “Basically, I think there’s no trust between crews and office staff as well right now, everybody (is) scared,” he says.

The majority of employees, like the majority of residents on Hong Kong, “are extremely supportive of the movement” but “Those who aren’t..are now denouncing their colleagues.” Cathay Pacific has “actively asked for whistleblowers to come forward, creating a divide amongst fellow employees.”

The result, he says, is an increasing culture of fear.

“Everyone has deleted chat groups and social media (profiles) that have any mention of the protests,” Jack says. “The cabin crew don’t even want to talk about the protests in the open, let alone admit they attend protests.”

Mainland China is one of the most important markets for the airline, but employees fear taking those trips. They’re having their personal phones inspected on arrival and so “[c]rew now leave their phone at home or take a second ‘China’ phone to work.”

Employees experience what they call a “white terror” and “it is seeping into every aspect of the business.”

While mainland China used the guide of ‘safety’ to demand crew manifests and vet them for hostility to the mainland for any flight heading or even overflying the country, the culture of fear is a distraction from safety and encourages that very antipathy towards The State that is deemed to lead to unsafe conditions. And the culture of service at the airline is hard to maintain when employees are primarily looking over their shoulders.

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. I just got back from Beijing China. The place disgusted me and I wish I’d never set foot in that Evil country. The land is fine, the average people are fine. However, the government is a Terrorist Organization.

  2. Interesting that here and in the media, China is the great Satin that can do nothing correct. Yet people throwing Molotov cocktails trying to burn policemen, and throwing bricks to cause bodily injury is OK. One must remember that Hong Kong is now a part of China, no different than Beijing or Shanghai. If the violent protestors do not calm it down, the special liberties that Hong Kong now enjoys will be taken away from them.
    While I am sympathetic to some of the complaints of the peaceful protestors, the rule of law must prevail. The protestors causing injury are the criminals here.

  3. Apparently Rob B conveniently ignored the many photos and videos that showed the people throwing Molotov and destroying facilities somehow managed to carry Glock 19 (used by HK cops) and police baton (which is illegal for regular HK residents to even possess one). They did not even attempt to hide the guns in their waist. Note that guns are extremely heavily regulated in HK. It’s safe to say whoever possesses one in HK is almost guaranteed to be related to the armed force one way or the other. Also, if a high school kid did indeed got their hands on a gun, why would they even bother to throw just Molotov instead of firing the gun? Why hadn’t the cops arrested the kids with the gun right away, while the kids possessing just a laser pen (he later said to have bought it for his college’s astronomy club event, which makes complete sense to me), three Octopus cards for different reasons, a goggle, or now just scream to the cops, are arrested and bloodied up while being refused legitimate medical treatments?
    This is tactic used by the CCP to stimulate hatred in the HK society. There are many holes in the stories told by the CCP, but there are unfortunately many CCP supporters who decide to stop exercising common sense and judgment.
    I can go on and on, but I don’t want to hijack Gary’s post. If the CCP has decided to suppress the kids’ fight for their own future, nothing I or others say would change their mind until they experience being suppressed themselves.

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