Hong Kong’s flagship airline is more than doubling its flights from the city to mainland China after the easing of pandemic restrictions, raising hopes of a recovery after dramatically cutting operations and suffering losses.
Cathay Pacific Airways’ ramped up flight schedule was announced after China confirmed on Thursday that it will reopen the mainland’s border with Hong Kong on January 8, nearly three years after it was largely shut in an effort to contain the spread of Covid. From Sunday, quarantine requirements for international arrivals in China and a number of Covid restrictions on airlines will be scrapped.
Cathay will resume 61 return flights from Hong Kong to 13 cities in mainland China from January 14, according to a statement Thursday. It also aims to operate more than 100 return flights per week between the city and destinations in China by March.
The airline currently operates 27 flights a week from Hong Kong to the mainland, and 50 in the opposite direction. It said it expects to reach about 70% of pre-pandemic passenger capacity by the end of this year and a full recovery by the end of 2024.
From Sunday, up to 60,000 Hong Kong residents will be able to cross the border each day as a gradual reopening begins. The quota allows 50,000 people to travel via three land checkpoints, and 10,000 via Hong Kong International Airport, two ferry piers and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.
Another 60,000 people will be allowed to travel from mainland China into Hong Kong daily.
The cap does not apply to Hong Kong residents returning to the city from the mainland, or mainland Chinese traveling back from Hong Kong. All travelers will be required to test negative for Covid via a PCR test within 48 hours prior to crossing.
Pandemic border restrictions took a heavy toll on families and businesses with ties on both sides and there is huge pent up demand for travel. By 11 p.m. local time Thursday, more than 250,000 people in Hong Kong had applied to cross into the mainland, according to the city’s government.
Cathay Pacific suffered a serious hit from the pandemic as the once-bustling travel and financial hub of Hong Kong was largely closed off from the rest of the world as it followed China’s hardline zero-Covid approach.
The carrier reported a net loss of 21.65 billion Hong Kong dollars ($2.8 billion) in 2020, followed by another net loss of 5.5 billion Hong Kong dollars ($707.9 million) in 2021, according to its annual reports to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
The airline laid off 5,300 employees in Hong Kong in 2020 and its usual capacity was reduced to just 2% at one point. Hong Kong gradually eased travel restrictions in the second half of last year and scrapped mandatory quarantine in September.
According to Cathay Pacific, the airline carried more than 526,000 passengers in November 2022, an increase of over 600% compared with November 2021 – though still nearly 80% down compared with pre-pandemic levels in November 2019.
CNN’s Wayne Chang and Simone McCarthy contributed to this report.