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Cathay Cabin Crew Threaten No Smiles for Passengers

A Cathay Pacific flight attendant stands next a placard as she and others stage a protest at the international airport in Hong Kong on December 3, 2012.
Philippe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images
A Cathay Pacific flight attendant stands next a placard as she and others stage a protest at the international airport in Hong Kong on December 3, 2012.

Flight attendants at Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific Airways are threatening to withhold food, alcohol and even smiles from passengers during the Christmas holidays over a pay dispute, a union official said Thursday.

Cabin staff at the airline, which has a reputation for top-notch service, voted at a union meeting this week in favor of industrial action that could also result in flight delays.

The union is demanding a 5 percent pay increase but the airline, which is struggling to cut costs after posting a first-half loss of 935 million Hong Kong dollars ($120.5 million), has offered 2 percent and a 13th month bonus.

The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union will soon announce when the action approved in the vote will be carried out, General Secretary Tsang Kwok-fung said.

"We may not provide alcoholic drinks to our passengers, or we may not even provide meals to passengers," in which case the union would advise travelers to bring their own food and drinks, said Tsang.

Limited service could also include withholding smiles and greetings from passengers.

"We cannot smile because of the situation, because of how the company treats us," Tsang said.

The union is also considering working to rule, which involves doing no more than the minimum work required in contracts and precisely following safety regulations.

Such tactics could include strictly enforcing size limits on hand luggage or waiting for all cleaning staff to leave the plane before boarding. The measures could delay flights by 20 to 30 minutes, Tsang said.

Some 1,600 of the union's nearly 6,000 members voted on Monday for industrial action after negotiations with the airline broke down.

The union is also considering a strike as a last resort, but not until the new year.

Cathay took out ads in Hong Kong newspapers on Thursday saying it's waiting to hear back from the union on an invitation to hold further talks. "We fully understand how important it is not to disrupt passengers at this busy time," the airline said.

The airline has "comprehensive contingency plans" to ensure normal operations over the holidays, Chief Operating Officer Ivan Chu said at a press briefing. He wouldn't give details.

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