Cathay Pacific face mask exemption for first, business class flyers

The Hong Kong airline says that passengers in its lie-flat first and business class seats can slip off the mask.

Now there’s at least one more reason to fly in business class or first class, especially with Cathay Pacific: the airline will exempt passengers in those premium cabins from wearing a face mask when they recline their seat to a fully-flat position.

Cathay Pacific’s reasoning is that the high enclosures surrounding its business class seats and first class suites, along with the greater degree of personal space and thus the distance between travellers, helps combat the airborne spread of coronavirus between passengers.

The Hong Kong-based airline made face masks compulsory for all passengers on May 15 at all stages of their journey, from airport check-in to lounges as well as during the flight.

However, in an internal memo issued on Friday, Cathay Pacific advised crew that a mask exemption will apply “when a passenger is lying flat in business or first class.”

Sleep easy: in Cathay Pacific business and first class, face masks are now optional.

Sleep easy: in Cathay Pacific business and first class, face masks are now optional.

A Cathay Pacific spokesperson later confirmed the softened rules, advising in a media statement that “seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep.”

The Cathay spokesperson also reiterated that its aircraft are equipped with filtration systems “capable of filtering 99.9999 percent of dust particles, including virus and bacteria.”

What’s next for Cathay first, business class?

As previously reported, Cathay’s long-awaited launch of its next-generation business and first class has now been pushed back until beyond 2025, in line with a deferred delivery of its Boeing 777-9 jets.

21 Boeing 777-9s were previously due to join the Cathay fleet from 2021 through to 2024, however a combination of Boeing’s own delays – the first delivery is now slated for late 2023 – and the airline’s COVID-induced cash crunch has seen the arrival of the 777-9 fleet “postponed beyond 2025”, according to Cathay Pacific Group Chairman Patrick Healy.

(Boeing also stands to lose more than a third of its 777X orders, as the delays will give some airlines the right to walk away from sales contracts.)

One proposed concept for Cathay's new Boeing 777-9 first class.

One proposed concept for Cathay’s new Boeing 777-9 first class.

The airline has previously told Executive Traveller that its Boeing 777-9s will be crowned by an all-new first class cabin, to replace the current long-lived design which debuted in 2007 – which will now be almost 20 years old by the time its first Boeing 777-9 takes wing.

In shaping a new first class for a new decade, Cathay Pacific is understood to have worked through mock-ups of high-walled private cribs as well as the more open design of the current first class suites.

Likewise, Cathay Pacific’s current long-range business class seat is based on a design from 2011, with a 2016 make-over for the Airbus A350, raising the question of whether the Boeing 777-9 business class would be another evolution or a radical revolution.