Cathay Pacific has suspended nearly 40 people in the aftermath of possible tampering of oxygen bottles on three flights in recent weeks. An empty oxygen bottle was found on a Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 that arrived at the Hong Kong airport from Bali, Indonesia, on Friday. On Aug. 17 and 18 two Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 planes landed in Toronto with a total of 13 empty and partially empty oxygen bottles.

The airline is headquartered in Hong Kong, a city that has been beleaguered with unrest for nearly 4 months as pro-democracy demonstrators face off against the Hong Kong government and who ultimately may have to confront forces from the mainland Chinese government and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). China’s airline regulator The Civil Aviation Administration of China has joined Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department and police in the investigation.

The airline issued a memo to employees that enhanced security measures would be enacted. The memo said, “The company is taking this issue very seriously and all cabin crew on the flights involved will be temporarily placed on the code DA (duty to be assigned) while the investigation is conducted.” The DA code is essentially a suspension.

cathay pacific
Cathay Pacific Airways passenger jets are seen on the tarmac at Hong Kong's international airport, Aug. 7, 2018. Getty Images/Anthony Wallace

In addition to the cabin crews, the ground staff, caterers, cleaners, engineers and other staff would all fall under the scope of the investigation. Other security protocols included:

  • Detailed checks on aircraft at least every 60 minutes between services conducted by employees.
  • Emergency equipment checks before every flight and at the end of every flight after passengers had left the plane.
  • Flight attendants were asked to be “extra vigilant” with the emergency equipment stowage area, where up to 22 oxygen bottles are also stored.
  • Staff was told to look for “abnormal smells, noise or temperature” in the cabin and crew rest compartment.
  • Crews were also told to enforce the “proper” stowage of passenger’s personal electronic devices, keep an eye on passenger consumption of alcohol, their behavior and signs of possible disputes.
  • Staff was also told to check the toilets, look for signs of tampering with smoke detectors and other “deviations” of passenger smoking.

Jeanette Mao, the airline’s general manager of in-flight service, said that the new policy called the “In-flight Cabin Monitoring Program,” would take effect immediately.

At least one unnamed Cathay Pacific flight attendant was not pleased with the new policies and described them as “mental torture” with the added duties to an already stressful job. The attendant said, “Sometimes when we are busy, people might not remember it has already been an hour” in reference to the required hourly checks.

The recently named CEO, Augustus Tang Kin-wing, age 60, is facing a bevy of pressures overseeing the new security measures, trying to identify the culprits who depleted the oxygen tanks and managing a decrease in bookings during what is usually a peak period for the airline.