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Why I knocked back Cathay

Old 13th Oct 2010, 15:04
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Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: melbourne
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Why I knocked back Cathay

Over the last few weeks I have been harrassed by my mates as to why I turned my back on working for what is suspposed to be one of the worlds best airlines, so thought I would share my experience to anybody interested so that perhaps any other starry-eyed low-time pilots such as myself can avoid the Cathay trap.

Was I stupid? arrogant? drunk? did I fail?? No on all counts and let me set the record straight as to why.

After a series of interviews, medicals etc and all that good stuff, I was given the nod to join the Cathay cadet program. This involves spending over a year in Adelaide at a private flying college sponsored by Cathay, after which I would have a commerical license signed off for Hong Kong, and would then go straight into the (back)seat of a heavy jet. Sounds too good to be true right?, well wait theres more.

Thankfully I have a few friends in Cathay, both First Officers and very senior Captains (ex management in fact), all level headed blokes with no axe to grind, and the overriding impression I received from them, and from a few other experienced guys in other airlines (Emirates, ANA, VA), whom I spoke in the lead up to this decision was basically this: dont do it, but if you do, make sure you have a very good sense of humor.

Cathay fly to some great destinations, but as it was pointed out, I would have zero chance of enjoying them, ever, because the time spent at destination is less than 24 hours, usually 18 hours, and apparently after a flight, you have to sleep straight away because you usually arrive after not having slept all night, and then you have to get presleep for the following nights flight. All the crew go straight to bed (called "slam-clickers"!), and even if you wanted to have a drink with one of the flight attendants (which as a single guy I always thought was part of the job description in any airline!), well the cabin crew will just stay in their rooms because they have to save their overnight allowances to compensate for their low salary. And besides apparently, most of them are quite difficult to communicate with.
So essentially you turn up to work 70 minutes before a flight, then go straight to the aircraft where after takeoff you usually go to sleep for the first half of the flight, and "work" for the second half of the flight.
Work basically involves checking off flight times on a fight plan, doing fuel checks, following the route on maps, and talking to ATC. This is not hands on flying, but "flight management".
As a second officer, you arent allowed to takeoff or land. So basically you are locked in the flight deck or the bunk, for 12-16hours, and then you spend an hour on a bus to a 3 star hotel in the middle of nowhere, where you sleep and cant go out because the hotel is usually in an industrial or outskirts area, and then you do it all in reverse again back to Hong Kong.

It will then take you a few days to get over your jet lag, which apparently is not very good for your long term health. And speaking of health, if the job doesnt kill you then the pollution will apparently. The government even has official "stay indoors" days! because it can get quite thick.

Rinse, repeat, for four years, the average time spent as a second officer.
And just in case you were thinking of leaving Cathay to fly elsewhere, the rating Cathay give is a "P2X" which is not a full conversion and is Hong Kong specific, so other airlines will not accept your Airbus or Boeing qualifications.

Then when you finally go right hand seat as First Officer, it only lasts 2 years maximum as you will then become a "Relief Pilot" which is another term they invented to save costs to save having 2 captains on a flight. What this means is that you will spend your time doing the same job as.. guess what..? Yes a Second Officer again! So great, you do relief pilot work for probably 5 to 10 years until your command. And they have just extended the retirement age, so you will have to wait even longer for upgrade to Captain.

And even better, when you are a first officer and a Captain, you will be working your ring off. The working hours are apaprently shite. I personally dont mind working hard but these guys say that their efforts are beyond resonable definitions. They told me about a loophole the compnay uses called "split duty" where you fly to a destination at night, spend 40 minutes on a bus to a crappy hotel where you sleep for around 5 hours, then bus back to the airport and fly back to Hong Kong, which I guess would be ok once in awhile but they do it all the time. Sounds like the Hong Kong regulator turns a bit of a blind eye over there which is not very reassuring.

And then every year Cathay will introduce a new route or destination where they will make guys fly really hard, wait until the regulator tells them to use more pilots on the route or rest more, which they will do for a short time, but then they will go back to the previous roster to see how long they can try it on for. Which sounded to me like some backyard GA outfits in Oz you read about.

So surely all this sounds a little backward as far as employee relations go I asked them? "Exactly" was the response, which is why Cathay is always in court. They recently hired first officers directly over second officers who were ready for upgrade, which in my book sounds a bit dissapointing. The second officers actually took the comany to court over it. And the cabin crew are always on the brink of striking too.

Oh and if you complain? Well they mark your comments in your file, then basically tell you to leave and work elsewhere.. Hmmm.

So what about the cool aircraft you guys fly? Well they say that after a few years it doesnt really matter if its a 380 or a 180, the flying becomes just a job, which I guess I can understand.

So whats it really like being a 2nd officer in Cathay? I enthusiastically asked my potentially fellow aviation brethren, looking for some kind of bone here..well not good news here either Im afraid. The unofficial line is that you are treated with a subtle mix of indifference and resentment, and if you join as a cadet you are basically considered as incompetent also, and a poor substitute for the higher paid Captain who would otherwise be sitting there were it not for managements constant drive to keep cutting costs. Plenty of jokes about second officers being known as "sandwich eaters", because thats all they do. Sounds pretty depressing to me. They make you do a simulator every 2 months (other pilots only do simulator exercises every 6 months).
And eventually, and I do mean eventually, in around 15 years, when you come up for command, there is a very large failure rate amongst cadets. Basically this is they say because the cadets dont have any real aviation experience to fall back on. And once you fail a command upgrade twice, then they either sack you or keep you as a first officer for ever. This deal keeps on getting worse by the minute!

Finally, the M question. Money.
So great, now Im back in Hong Kong and its time to live it up right? After all Ive made it to the top and can kick back a little in my huge pad and German car? Hong Kong with its low tax and company subsidised housing sounds like a pretty sweet deal? Well err not quite.
I was in for a shock - take home buying power for a First Officer is below Jetstar! Hard to believe but true. Food, gas, and most importantly beer, and well even more importantly a place to live, cost an absolute fortune. With a newly minted salary, I did some checking because I didnt believe what the guys were saying, and even if I spend two thirds of my take-home dollars, I would still be living in a classic highrise smaller than the size of my garage, complete with washing hanging out the windows (plenty of property websites to check for yourself). And thats just to rent, because to own a house up there now is apaprently impossible because of the rising prices.
Previously the pilots received a housing subsidy, but now management has introduced a "C" scale package which is just basic salary (there were A and B scale packages before, each better than the last).
And if you try and send money home back to Australia, what you can buy with your salary is pretty minimal. It would take me 20 years to save for a small house in Doncaster, a fairly average Aussie suburb, which is where my family is.
And dont fall into the trap that the comany will keep wages to match inflation as they wont.

So just to reconvince myself that this is the best decision I never made, just let me recap:

salary - less than any Australian airline..crap
accommodation - living in an apartment with refugee camp dimensions?..crap
lifestyle - not being able to go jogging because of the pollution, and having any family exposed to that kind of smog?..crap
fellow pilots - sorry boys, nothing personal but not exactly a cosy family
cabin crew - nothing on a Virgin girl! (call me shallow)
career prospects - this airline seems to always slot in other pilots ahead of others on the list..the rating then is crap
flying - playing seat warmer for 4 years..crap
how hard I have to work...I believe in an honest days pay for an honest days work, but from what I hear its like slave labour.
Bottom line..40 years of that? Tell them theyre dreaming!

Hope this little synopsis doesnt appear too negative, after all I did a lot of research and tried to be objective the whole way through, after all I even committed to the entire interview process, but frankly it just plainly doesnt stack up, that to leave Australia to work for those kind of people would mean that there would have to be something wromg with me.

I encourage anybody else out there considering Cathay to really do their homework too and make up their own mind - dont take it from me.But I would be suprised if you come to any other conclusion. I was suprised at how appealing the lcoal creer options really are, and that the grass was not greener. It seems that the good old days at Cathay are exactly that.

Also BTW the decision to say no to Cathay was perhaps a little easier than just saying no, as I was not the only one, as a few applicants I have kept in touch with have done the same - apologies if I sounded like the first!.

I personally think its better to get some solid command and multi hours before I go for an airline, if only for the self reassurance of having some experience for my later command days. So right now Im taking a solid GA path instead with some multi turboprop hours on the horizon, and then in a year or two will look at Virgin or Jetstar, or one of the nearby airlines (Brunei etc).

But have still got the name on the file for Qantas as a backup just in case
anothernewbie is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 16:40
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Through The Looking Glass
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Excellent Post anothernewbie.

As a current Cathay DESO I can vouch for everything you've said.

With housing allowance paying off your mortgage (if you can afford the deposit), then CX is borderline worthwhile.

With no housing offered for Cadets, Cathay is simply not worth considering. I am serious when I say that you would be living below the poverty line.

The rumour of a future housing allowance for cadets is purely that.

Cathay has expanded the Cadet Scheme to save money. The whole point is that they don't want to pay you the same package that they would have to pay an experienced pilot.

Even if things are written in your contract, you still have to take CX to court to fight for it (eg Bypass Pay). There's no way Cathay will honour a rumour.

Happy Trails.

ULH
UltraLongHaul is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 17:05
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anothernewbie
What a gem of a post. With your gift for writing, I hope that we get more gems from you as your career progresses. 'Onya!
Neptunus Rex is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 18:59
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Join Date: Nov 2005
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Thumbs up

Mr. ANOTHERNEWBIE, very well decribed the reality.

Still, there are a lot of newbies/wannabies with no/low flying hours desperately wants to get in everyday!

Admin should put this post as Sticky!
SonicCat is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 23:13
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100% on the money.

Required reading IMHO.

Sticky please, moderators.
Cpt. Underpants is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 23:42
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Join Date: Jul 2000
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Excellent post, please update your career here to show what real flying is about, waiting 4 years to follow a flight director for 5-10min a few times a month is not rewarding and certainly not worth living in HK for.

Remember that 5-10min following the F/D will be for the next 30-40years!
SMOC is offline  
Old 13th Oct 2010, 23:46
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At least one of these applicants did the homework. Most of them are bogged down by the minutiae of the interviews.

Applicants, please read and consider yourselves forewarned.
cxorcist is online now  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 00:37
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Join Date: Oct 2003
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That was brilliant prose! Pity none of the 'stars in their eyes' cadets are going to read it...
j3pipercub is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 00:39
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Excellent post, anothernewbie. Good luck with your career elsewhere, hopefully you'll go far having the courage of your convictions.

Read, heed and inwardly digest all you wannabe's. And don't just take the view of "Oh good he's left a spot open for me by saying 'No'."

This is right on the (lack of) money.
Bograt is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 01:21
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Thanks for the post, I am very happily flying in GA but one day would like to head to the airlines (and was thinking about Cathay).

What I don't get is this: If conditions are truly SO bad and CX pilots are SO poor then why not leave?? It seems like everyone who complains is still going to work everyday. Maybe I'm just being naive but as soon as I get fed up with a job or feel like I'm being ripped off I get the hell out.
OZvandriver is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 03:00
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People don't leave as with the housing allowance it is actually descent money. Without it, it is shocking money for having to live in Hong Kong.
SloppyJoe is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 03:33
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I left an industry which was very similar to the life of an S/O @ CX but I don't bitch about it. Personal choices remain personal. I just got out without splashing it all over.

I'm not saying your departure wasn't done without good grounds. I know of a guy who recently knocked backed KA at the interview - gave them all the poignant reasons, like increasing competition, dwindling routes, parked cargo fleet, maintenance procrastination, and to top it all, new management from CX who will in due course be cutting out all duplication within the "larger" organisation. However, I would've been less brazen.
ReverseFlight is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 03:34
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Ozvandriver, SloppyJoe hit the nail on the head. Its all in the housing allowance and without it the international cadets are on a financial suicide mission. I have sat down and worked it out. The only way that the cadet program works for a foreigner is for you to leave once you have an endo and a few years under your belt as an FO. So plan on 4yrs as an SO, 2 years FO and then pull the plug. Even then this is marginal when you consider the non-financial factors such as the pollution and the shoebox apartments. My advice is think long term and see throught the haze that is the Shiney Jet Syndrome.
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Old 14th Oct 2010, 04:01
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anothernewbie

Thanks for the info anothernewbie, everyone needs to know ALL the facts not just the sugar coated BS we hear sometimes, may I ask what your qualifications are?, SPL PPL CPL (f)ATPL uni degree etc
Em773ER is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 05:39
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Join Date: Aug 2006
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Current S/O as well. Have been here 2.5 years and while i enjoy the job and disagree with a few of your points you mention (not too many though), You are absolutely spot on with the salary/ finance side of things.

Probably the most unbiased piece of writing i've read on this site
sicilian is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 06:33
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Join Date: Aug 2010
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Excellent & realistic piece. I'm actually a cadet wannabe going through the selection process at the moment. I've friends who work in CX & EK as well and I was told the same things. However, I would come to a different bottom line and would actually accept the job if I get through all the stages as my condition as a female Malaysian doesn't leave me with many choices. MH & SQ don't hire females so CX is my best bet. I'm gonna be positive & focus on the free education and confirmed job offer once I finish flying school instead. Having said that, staying for long term in CX would depend if rumours do eventually come true about some sort of housing allowance. Else, it would be earning the hours and trying to a better offer elsewhere. No one wants to flying a shiny jet 10 years from now still struggling to buy a car...

Good luck with all your undertakings, anothernewbie. It's always awesome to make a well-researched, informed decision and taking control of what you want in life. I wish all cadet wannabes would read your piece and come to a realistic decision too!
Michelle.C is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 06:42
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Excellent piece; reflects the sentiment found on the present day Cathay Pacific flight-deck.
quadspeed is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 07:10
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whilst not trying to be a cynic do you think he is a real cadet applicant seems extremely well informed and critical beyond his years!
Orangputi is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 07:32
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Join Date: Mar 2006
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Age: 36
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Same Situation

Wow, thanks for the post. I too have declined Cathay's Offer last year. I was supposed to be in CP35. Same reasons. Many people said I was crazy and couldn't understand my decision....good luck
Jumbo744 is offline  
Old 14th Oct 2010, 07:36
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Join Date: Jul 2001
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whilst not trying to be a cynic do you think he is a real cadet applicant seems extremely well informed and critical beyond his years!
My thoughts exactly...pretty much your standard bitch session on A461.
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