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A Cathay Pacific 777 lifts off from Dusseldorf, Germany. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Cathay Pacific Offers Mask Exemption For Premium Classes

On Tuesday, an external memo to Cathay Pacific staff revealed that the airline is no longer requiring masks for First and Business Class passengers. This only applies when customers are laid down in a fully-reclined lay-flat seat. While the move may be considered adverse to public health guidelines, Cathay believes the distance between First and Business Class seats is enough to adequately social distance.

Mask Not Required When in Lay-Flat Position

According to Cathay Pacific, the space between passengers in its premium cabins is enough to negate the need for masks. This, combined with the company’s use of High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, will create a safe environment that can adequately protect passengers from contracting COVID-19 onboard.

In a statement made to Sam Chui Aviation and Travel, Cathay said, “Our aircraft are equipped with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arresters) filtration systems; these are capable of filtering 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminates such as viruses and bacteria, ensuring the highest possible cabin air quality.”

Before the new rule, Cathay Pacific only allowed the removal of masks when eating or drinking, which has become standard across airlines. However, some carriers have struggled to enforce mask requirements, which has added additional strain on cabin crews.

 Concern Over the Exemption

The decision to exempt First and Business passengers from wearing a mask will garner mixed emotions from passengers and employees. While there may be adequate social distancing in the premium cabins, the risk of contracting COVID-19 on a Cathay flight may increase with the exemption in place. Without a mask to block sneezes or coughs filled with droplets potentially carrying the virus, the possibility of exposure to cabin crew that cannot social distance when walking in the aisle goes up. However, Cathay management has assured its staff that this is not a concern due to the other health measures, including enhanced sanitation and the HEPA filters.

Nevertheless, some employees are not convinced. The Chairman of the Staff and Workers Union of Hong Kong, Cheung-Shu-wang, said in a statement to The Standard, “under this instruction, many crew members are worried about infecting Covid-19 after the close contact with passengers.” He also emphasized that the decision was only made to bring convenience and comfort to Cathay’s premium customers.

Regardless of whether the move affects the transmission of the virus or not, the convenience of the exemption may drive more customers to purchase First or Business seats. Cathay Pacific has taken a significant hit since the start of the pandemic, with passenger load down over 98% compared to 2019. So the move is likely a way to offer comfort to passengers that other airlines can’t, and Cathay is hoping this will boost its traffic. If this practice is successful, it may become a new standard across airlines.


  • Taylor Rains graduated from Florida Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Aviation Management in 2017. She has worked in the aviation industry for the past five years and has a specialty in safety analytics for part 121 airlines, but she has also worked for a part 135 company in Alaska. Her experience has allowed her to work in many areas of aviation, including airport operations, flight operations, security, inflight, dispatch, and maintenance. Taylor is also an avid traveler and has used her flight benefits to fly on as many airlines and aircraft types as possible. So far, her favorite flight has been aboard KLM’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

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