Cathay Pacific made “significant progress” in recovering passenger travel demand in 2023 – with passenger traffic sharply improving from the previous year’s lower base – even as it acknowledged its “ongoing” operational challenges. 

In traffic results for the full year, the Hong Kong-based carrier reported a six-fold jump in passenger volume to nearly 18 million in 2023, its first year of operations since pandemic border restrictions eased. 


Source: Alfred Chua/FlightGlobal

Cathay improved its 2023 traffic, even as it encountered operational issues during the year-end

Full-year traffic grew about four-fold year on year, with the sharpest increase seen in Northeast and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Cathay saw capacity grow by more than three times, leading to a 12.1 percentage point increase in passenger load factor to 85.7%. 

For December, Cathay carried over 1.7 million passengers, about twice the number compared to the year-ago period. Traffic grew 89% year on year, outpaced by a 94% rise in capacity. 

Cathay chief customer and commercial officer Lavinia Lau says the airline saw “overwhelming demand” for short-haul travel during December, pointing out that Japan and Southeast Asia were “especially popular”. 

“We [also] saw good demand for travel from the United States and the Southwest Pacific in the first half of December. The demand for travel from the United Kingdom was particularly strong as it coincided with the peak period for international students returning to Hong Kong,” Lau adds. 

However, Cathay does not mention the operational snags it encountered over the Christmas and New Year period, which saw it abruptly cancel up to 40 flights a day. 

It initially blamed a “higher than expected” pilot absence from “seasonal illness” for the sudden cancellations, but days later conceded it had “underestimated” the number of reserve pilots needed over the year-end period. 

The manpower crunch has led the airline to extend cancellations through February, with up to 12 flights a day suspended. It has come under scrutiny from the city’s government, which called the airline out for its operational issues.

Cathay has since launched a probe – led by chief operations and service delivery officer Alex McGowan – to resolve the issues that led to the spate of operational snags. 

In its latest traffic results, Cathay would only acknowledge the challenges it faced. Says Lau: “Despite the ongoing challenges that are affecting the entire global aviation industry, we are prepared to face them, as always, with determination.”