On strike: Cathay Pacific flight attendants threaten to withhold smiles, booze

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Buzz

Yes, as Louis C.K. brilliantly reminded us, we're hurtling through the sky in a metal chair. And that's amazing.

But as creatures who have an incredible capacity to adapt to our surroundings (not to mention take things for granted), we've come to expect a bit more from our air travel experiences — particularly on flights that can stretch out along several time zones.

So amid a confluence of cramped quarters, restless legs, bad food, shrieking infants and absolutely nowhere to escape said quartet of miseries for many, many hours,  a smile really does travel a long way, too.

With that in mind, passengers who have come to rely on friendly smiles from flight attendants may want to avoid Cathay Pacific over the holidays.

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As the Globe and Mail notes, cabin crews aboard the Hong Kong-based airline have threatened to make conditions downright Grinch-like by refusing to serve food and alcohol or even crack a single smile this season.

The real Grinches in this scenario, according to the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union, are airline execs who refuse to award the five per cent pay increase the union demands.

In retaliation to this pay dispute, union general secretary Tsang Kwok-fung has encouraged attendants to hit the airline where it hurts: Cathay Pacific's hard-earned reputation for excellent service.

"We may not provide alcoholic drinks to our passengers, or we may not even provide meals to passengers," said Tsang.

"We cannot smile because of the situation, because of how the company treats us," he added.

The move will certainly cause a few cold-weather sweats: airline brass is already scrambling to make up for Cathay Pacific's first-half losses of $120.5 million.

So far, the company has tabled a two per cent raise and 13-month bonus, an offer that unionites swiftly rejected. As a result of these failed talks, the union has threatened to strike in the new year and, in the meantime, may introduce a work-to-rule action plan that could cause significant flight delays.

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It could be a similar story aboard Iberian this month, as the union has called off an impending worker strike to "accommodate the needs of holiday passengers," but has not indicated if they will be particularly cheerful about doing so.

And airline bosses have a good precedent to help fuel their holiday strike nightmares. Back in 2009, British Airways workers walked out between Dec. 22 and Jan. 2, thrusting Heathrow Airport in London into chaos as travellers rushed to make alternate arrangements on already overbooked flights.

The only people smiling at that point were British Airways' competitors.

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