Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused devastating damage to the global economy, resulting in livelihoods being destroyed and an uncountable number of pay cuts and furloughs. The travel industry in particular has been hit incredibly hard as nations began to lockdown and close off their borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific was no exception. Once a hotspot for business, travel, and tourism, Hong Kong was already facing economic issues due to the social unrest that stems from the 2019 protests. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has only served to exasperate the issue further.

Cathay announced it would lay off 5,900 employees worldwide including 5,300 in Hong Kong in October 2020. The carrier also axed its regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon after a 35-year run. Despite this, some ex-cabin crew members who have suffered as a result of this move did not stay down, and have turned to online business to survive – helped by a “mutual assistance” scheme among former staffers.

The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) was able to get a hold of several of these ex-employees to learn their story. Jacky Chan, a purser who had served in Cathay Pacific for over five years, was among those waiting with bated breath to see if he was on the list. When the time finally came for the axe to fall, Chan and fellow cabin crew were prepared.

Four months before he was sacked, he and a group of flight attendants launched a YouTube channel called “FAssembly” featuring videos about their experience serving on planes. Fortunately, this channel had gained a decent following. After the round of layoffs, Chan and his team decided to launch their “mutual assistance” scheme, compiling a list of shops – mostly online – run by current or former flight attendants and promoting them on their platform.

The team also organised a bazaar in early November in hopes of bringing customers to these small-scale stores: “The bazaar attracted over 100 applications and we picked 30 shops in the end. We prioritised shop owners who were affected by the layoffs, with more than 90 percent of the shops being run by current and former Cathay employees,” Chan said.

HKFP also got in touch with Kary Chu, a former Cathay Pacific flight attendant who set up shop at the bazaar selling dried fruit. She mentions that after the company ordered two rounds of unpaid leave, she and many of her colleagues had to start doing some side business to make ends meet.

Chu said running an online shop has allowed her to hone new skills like graphic design, and made her realise she could do more than just “distributing meals on a plane.”

Ex-staffers such as Chan and Chu have showed incredibly foresight and initiative when it comes to adapting to the shifting economic landscape as a result of the pandemic. They are a testament to the fact that there exists opportunities even in such hard times, waiting to be grasped.


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