Tell us a bit about your career.
I’ve been with Cathay for 29 years, and 21 of those years have been here in Anchorage. Prior to coming here, I worked in multiple Cathay departments. But then my husband’s work meant that he had to go to Alaska and eventually I transferred there too. I found the adjustment very, very hard at first, but I grew into it and now I enjoy it.
How many people are in your team and what do they do?
We have eight people in the Cathay Cargo Anchorage team now. All our transpacific Boeing 747 freighters stop in Anchorage on their way to the Americas and just about all of them on the way back to Hong Kong. Our team manages the crew to make sure they’re collected from and delivered to aircraft on time, we organise the fuel, we do a walkaround and check the cargo, we make sure that all the paperwork is done and organise de-icing if required. We also offload and load cargo for here or if there is some disruption and we need to change aircraft.
Tell us about the snowstorm this November 2023.
I think it was the worst I’ve seen in 20 years. We’re used to five or six inches overnight, but not 24. It was also heavy, wet snow, not powder, which made it harder to de-ice planes. Planes couldn’t leave, and there was nowhere to park incoming aircraft and we ended up with some crew stuck on taxiways for hours.
How did you manage that snowstorm?
We have Plans A, B, C and D for things like this. This was Plan D – much worse than anticipated. We had one diversion that landed in Fairbanks, which is about 45 minutes away by plane from Anchorage. But Fairbanks filled up quickly with aircraft diverted from other airlines’ freighters, and was also a problem because we don’t have crew there. We flew up an engineer to sign off on the aircraft for departure – they also acted as a rep for us to get things done quickly. One big change now for the better is that the crew have an iPad and can do the ‘paperwork’ remotely.
What was the impact on the freighter schedule with an event like this?
It can be huge. Some freighters heard about the weather en route and diverted to Japan to get more fuel for a transpacific leg direct to Los Angeles, but then the crew set to fly the next leg were stuck in Anchorage. Additionally, if we fly direct from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, we pay a penalty with the cargo we’re able to carry of around 16 tonnes. We had to cancel 11 services to the Americas overall, which created a big backlog of cargo in Hong Kong. It took about a week to clear.
The cargo industry is still pretty male-dominated. Is this a tough operational environment for a woman?
You just have to prove that you can do it. I proved the point when I got my loading licence. And for a while people would board a plane and ask who the load master is – I would raise my hand and say ‘it’s me. I’m right here’. I’ve proved the point over time that actions speak louder than words.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of the job?
I am very grateful to have the experience and the knowledge that many others don’t have, and the friendship that I have with all my friends and colleagues here. We rely on each other and we’re like a family.