Hong Kong Airlines started sacking staff on Wednesday, a day after slashing in-flight services to a bare minimum.
Sources told the Post that 170 employees, mostly flight attendants, had been informed that Wednesday would be their last day of work.
On Tuesday night, the airline said that, starting the next day, it would cut a host of services on all flights, including providing food, drink, pillows and blankets, in what it said was a “precautionary measure” to protect customers and crew during the coronavirus outbreak.
However, the Post has been told the move is a desperate attempt to cut costs by an airline which was on the brink of collapse at the beginning of the year, and two weeks ago announced it was making 400 staff redundant.
The measures came after earlier reductions to services, which only affected flights to mainland China.
In a notice one employee received, the airline said: “We regret to inform you that based on the company’s recent review of its operational requirements, you will be made redundant.”
Flight attendants would be paid an extra month, plus accrued but unused annual leave, while severance based on years of service would be taken into account.
The termination notice ended: “We would like to thank you for your contribution to the company in the past and we sincerely wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”
Affected staff have been told to hand back their uniforms on Thursday.
Unable to pay for in-flight entertainment since December, passengers will need to bring their own devices or reading material to keep themselves entertained with magazines scrapped, while the carrier closed its flagship airport lounge at Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday.
“To further strengthen our precautionary measures and reduce the risk of our crew and customers from being potentially exposed to coronavirus, Hong Kong Airlines will be limiting in-flight cabin activity and making temporary adjustments to our on-board services,” the company said on its website.
The airline apologised for the inconvenience to customers and said it would continue to monitor the situation and make further in-flight changes accordingly. The airline’s older lounge in the main terminal of the airport remains open.
There would be no particular restrictions on passengers bringing food or drink on board, the airline added.
A fortnight ago, Hong Kong Airlines said at least 400 of its 3,500 staff would be made redundant while all other staff would be required to take unpaid leave between mid-February until the end of June, amounting to a total of two months, or work part-time on half pay.
Passengers in business class will only receive a bottle of water, while economy travellers will only get a pre-packed cup of water. No food will be provided on flights, and magazines have been axed, except newspapers or reading materials in seat pockets.
For more than a year, HKA has faced lingering questions about its ability to keep operating.
Last December, the government allowed the company to stay in business after a last-minute cash injection – blamed on the months of civil unrest in Hong Kong, during which fewer people visited the city.
The coronavirus, which causes a deadly disease known as Covid-19, has pushed the airline once again to the brink of its existence.