‘Big Brother’ in the Sky: Cathay Pacific Workers Feel China’s Pressure

“I dedicated myself to the company,” Ms. Sin said. “I loved my company. I used to say proudly to other people that I was a stewardess from Cathay Pacific. But now I can’t say that anymore. I’m too heartbroken.”

Employees have also been questioned about what they wrote more privately.

Joi Lam, a 36-year-old flight purser at Cathay Pacific for 12 years, said she was summoned to an urgent management meeting on Aug. 30. Managers showed her two screenshots from a private WhatsApp group she had created for colleagues who were also mothers, in which she suggested buying helmets, face masks, food and other supplies for the protesters.

Like the other employees interviewed by The New York Times, she initially denied the posts were hers. She was later fired.

“I feel I was just an employee reference number to the company,” said Ms. Lam, who believes another employee in the WhatsApp group showed her posts to management. “They can delete whoever they want from the system without hesitation.”

Flight crews who travel to China face even more scrutiny from local regulators, several employees said, though they noted that the attention had eased in recent days. Some workers described longer-than-normal flight delays at Chinese airports and regulators searching cabins for periodicals that cover the protests. Others have had to go through searches by security officials, even for those who had to fly out again.

Several Cathay employees asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal. Many employees said they would have a difficult time finding similar jobs elsewhere. Departing workers would have to take their chances with a foreign airline, a regional airline or one of China’s state-run carriers.

Mr. Tung, the purser, did not ask for anonymity. He said he expected to be fired for talking publicly about Cathay’s problems. The risk, he said, was worth it.

“I hope that by making public what’s happening to the company, I can protect my colleagues,” Mr. Tung said. “If I don’t have the right to talk freely, then what use is this job?”