Cathay Pacific adds mask exemption for premium passengers

Feb 8, 2021

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Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said that it’s easing mask restrictions for its business- and first-class passengers.

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In an internal memo sent on Friday, the airline detailed its plan to offer a mask exemption “when a passenger is lying flat in business or first class.” The memo, which was first reported by Executive Traveller, detailed the reasoning for the policy being that the premium cabins are “more spacious with partitions” and offer suite-style seats with high enclosures surrounding the passenger.

In an email to TPG, a Cathay spokesperson said, “The latest additional guidelines are designed to help our crew understand the circumstances under which mask-wearing is exempted. Passengers are required to wear masks at all times except during the short period when they are eating and drinking, and when proper social distancing cannot be maintained. Seats in First and Business Class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep.”

The spokesperson went on to say that, “Our aircraft are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Arresters (HEPA) filtration systems that are capable of filtering 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, ensuring the highest possible cabin air quality. HEPA filters offer a similar level of performance to those used to keep the air clean in hospital operating rooms and industrial clean rooms.”

When the first- or business-class passenger’s seat is in the lounge or the upright position, they will still be required to wear their mask. The exemption only applies to when the seat is in its lie-flat mode.

Since May 2020,  Cathay has enforced a one-size-fits-all rule to mask-wearing when flying: every traveller aged two years or older must wear a mask unless eating or drinking, no matter which cabin they’re flying in. Additionally, all passengers must wear a mask during check-in, in Cathay lounges, during boarding, during disembarkation and when directed by airport staff or cabin crew.

Related: Why pilots don’t have to wear masks when flying

Most other airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic in the U.K., continue to mandate strict rules regarding masks for all passengers in all cabins.

In the United States, President Joe Biden implemented a new mandate that requires all passengers wear a face mask on aeroplanes, trains, buses, taxis and rideshares as of 2 February. The U.S. CDC said that scientific evidence shows that “consistent and universal use of masks” on public transit will help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Elsewhere, in the Middle East, Qatar advises its passengers flying in business class to wear their mask “onboard at their own discretion, as they enjoy more space and privacy.” A Qatar Airways spokesperson clarified to TPG that “wearing face shields and masks simultaneously is at the wearer’s discretion, however at minimum masks are mandatory.” Non-business class passengers on Qatar are required to wear a face mask and protective face shield at all times.

Featured photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy

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