As Hong Kong burns, Cathy Pacific Airways fiddles with ‘Sense of Harmony’ cabin improvements

The improved cabin offerings look great, but one could be forgiven for questioning the timing of the airline's public relations staff in announcing the upgrades and its use of "harmony" in the title.


The public relations mavens at Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific decided Friday (15 November) would be a good day to release the news of the airlines’ improved First Class and Business Class offerings, in a press released called “A Sense of Harmony”. The news was released just a day after the airline cancelled the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines’ Assembly of Presidents because of the violence that has brought the city to a standstill and a day after a man died after being attacked by anti-government, pro-democracy protesters.

Anti-government protesters tried to block access to Hong Kong International Airport in September after earlier shutting down the airport for two consecutive days in August. (PHOTO: Shutterstock)

“Cathay Pacific is indulging passengers with an elevated premium travel experience. An array of thoughtfully chosen enhancements to the service, soft products and culinary offerings are rolling out on board its First and Business Class cabins. These enrichments are designed to offer passengers a more holistic, sensory experience that begins from the moment they begin their journey,” the airline said in announcing the new product.

Cathay’s new First Class product. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

The problem is, for passengers originating in Hong Kong, the “moment they begin their journey” is when they try to get to the airport which is kilometres away from a city centre that has been roiled by protests for six months, seen three people shot by police, one pro-Beijing resident set on fire by protesters and a 70-year-old man killed Thursday after protesters dropped a brick on his head.

Passengers trying to reach the Hong Kong International Airport in August after anti-government protesters had shut down transport links to the facility. (PHOTO: File)

Not to worry, Cathay seems to believe, as “premium passengers can now enjoy a new, more bespoke First Class customer journey centred on enjoying inspired flavours, calming fragrances and refined textures whenever they travel”. The airline goes on to extol its new “jasmine silver needle tea” in First Class and new bedding in First and Business and new entertainment options in Economy Class.

Former Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg was forced out after China threatened the airline’s business on and over the mainland. (PHOTO: RISE)

Cathay’s choice of “Harmony” might also be mistaken for being ironic, given the airline has itself been caught up in the protests in Hong Kong and felt the heavy hand of Beijing. The airline was forced to backpedal on its claim of neutrality regarding the protests when it said Cathay staff could support or not support protesters on their own time. That stoked the ire of China, which then threatened Cathay’s business, much of which either travels to or over the mainland. The airline’s CEO, chairman, and many other officials were forced out, pilots and cabin crew have been sacked, and those that remain say they are operating under a blanket of fear that if they say one wrong word they too will be out of a job.

Cathay, for its part, ignored those concerns in its  statement, informing the world’s press that “at the heart of Cathay Pacific’s elevated premium experience is a new collaboration with Bamford. The luxury UK lifestyle brand, renowned for its ethical and sustainable principles, has designed a range of exclusive amenities, travel kits and plush bedding for the airline’s travellers in both cabins that are certain to delight the senses”.

Cathay says that “at the heart” of the airline’s “elevated premium experience is a new collaboration with Bamford, the luxury UK lifestyle brand, renowned for its ethical and sustainable principles”. (PHOTO: Cathay Pacific)

The improved cabin offerings look great, but one could be forgiven for questioning the timing of the airline’s public relations staff in announcing the upgrades and its use of “harmony” in the title.

But the Cathay PR staff appears not entirely tone deaf to the situation. Following an inquiry from AAV, the Cathay press staff said: “We do not take recent events in Hong Kong lightly. The past few months have been incredibly challenging for Hong Kong, its people and Cathay Pacific. We recognise that under the circumstances no time is entirely ideal to announce enhancements to our customer experience proposition; however, one thing we have continuously reiterated over recent months has been that, despite current challenges, we have never compromised on our commitment to our customers. We feel it is important that we continue to remind our customers and stakeholders of that fact. We sincerely hope that the situation in Hong Kong can be resolved swiftly and peacefully, and that society as a whole can get back on track as soon as possible.”

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Matthew Driskill is the Editor of Asian Aviation and is based in Cambodia. He has been an Asia-based journalist and content producer since 1990 for outlets including Reuters and the International Herald Tribune/New York Times and is a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. He frequently appears on international broadcast outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and the BBC and has taught journalism at Hong Kong University and the American University of Paris. Driskill has received awards from the Associated Press for Investigative Reporting and Business Writing and in 1989 was named the John J. McCloy Fellow by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York where he earned his Master's Degree.


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