Cathay Pacific drops Newark, Seattle and Washington as pandemic hits business

Nov 17, 2020

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Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways is rolling back the ambitious global expansion it embarked on during the decade before the coronavirus pandemic.

Three U.S. airports that joined its map during the period — Newark (EWR) in 2014, Washington Dulles (IAD) in 2018 and Seattle (SEA) in 2019 — are among destinations permanently dropped from the airline’s route map, reported the South China Morning Post on Tuesday. The airline is also pulling out of Dublin (DUB), London Gatwick (LGW) and the Maldives (MLE).

The cuts come amid a dramatic COVID-driven restructuring for Cathay Pacific. The airline closed its Cathay Dragon brand and laid off 8,500 staff in October following steep losses. The carrier plans to transfer most Dragon services to its budget brand HK Express.

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Washington is one city that benefitted from Cathay’s 2010s expansion. The route was just one addition in a rapid expansion of international services at Dulles that saw new connections to places ranging from Casablanca (CMN), Edinburgh (EDI) to Tel Aviv (TLV).

At Cathay Pacific’s 2018 Dulles launch, then-CEO Rupert Hogg said the route had been on the airline’s radar for “some time” and he was confident that they were right “placing our confidences in this route.”

Washington flights were initially flown with an Airbus A350-1000 but were due for a downgrade to a smaller A350-900 last winter before the coronavirus struck.

Related: Cathay Pacific closes Dragon brand, shifts flying to budget unit HK Express

Micah Lillard, a spokesperson for Dulles operator the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, told TPG that Cathay Pacific has advised them that Hong Kong flights will not resume in 2021. Talks are underway “regarding restarting Dulles service once international travel demand approaches pre-COVID-19 levels,” he added.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other groups do no expect air travel to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024.

“After careful consideration, we believe it is unlikely we will operate flights services to these destinations in the near future,” Cathay Pacific spokesperson Julie Jarratt told TPG.

The U.S. pullback will leave Cathay Pacific with five U.S. destinations: Boston (BOS), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX), New York JFK and San Francisco (SFO). However, only Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco flights have resumed since the pandemic began, according to Cirium schedule data.

Related: Cathay Pacific will end New York-Vancouver flight early in coronavirus capacity cuts

Updated with comment from Cathay Pacific.

Featured image by JIMMOYHT/Shutterstock.

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