Cathay Pacific will exempt first and business class passengers from wearing face masks when sleeping, according to updated guidelines shared with cabin crew.

The Hong Kong-based carrier said the new internal memo is “designed to help our crew understand the circumstances under which mask wearing is exempted”.

Although passengers are still required to don face masks throughout the flight, with the exception of eating and drinking, travellers in premium cabins will additionally be exempted while resting.

“Seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep,” a Cathay Pacific spokesperson told Business Traveller.

“Our aircraft are equipped with HEPA filtration systems that are capable of filtering 99.999 per cent of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, ensuring the highest possible cabin air quality.”

The move, however, has raised concerns among the airline’s employees.

“Under this instruction, many crew members are worried about [becoming infected with] Covid-19 after close contact with passengers,” said Cheung Shu-wang, chairman at the Staffs and Workers Union of Hong Kong Civil Airlines, according to The Standard.

Cheung’s remarks come after the Hong Kong government announced it will require flight crew to go into two weeks of hotel quarantine upon return to the city, amid soaring Covid-19 cases. 

It also follows a recent study which hints at Covid-19 transmissions between passengers and cabin crew during a Boston to Hong Kong flight last March, reported The New York Times.

The airline is not alone in exempting premium cabin passengers. 

Last summer, Qatar Airways said business class travellers would be able to wear personal protective equipment “at their own discretion”. (The Doha-based carrier has since clarified that masks are still required in business class, while face shields are optional.) 

Economy passengers, on the contrary, must continue to wear both face shields and masks on Qatar Airways, except when served meals or drinks.