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U.K. here we come!

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(Bloomberg) -- British Airways plans to double Chinese cabin crew for its flights between China and the UK as it sees strong demand for premium leisure travel.

The UK’s flagship carrier, which currently has 50 China-based cabin crew in its ranks, will add another 50 local-language staff, equally split between its bases in Shanghai and Beijing, Calum Laming, the airline’s chief customer officer said during an interview with Bloomberg in the Chinese capital Thursday.

The recruitment drive, which will be mostly finalized before Lunar New Year in mid-February, will make China British Airways’ second-largest international cabin crew base after India, according to Laming.

British Airways announced its recruitment plan back in October and since then has received thousands of applicants, Laming said. British Airways resumed flights from London to Shanghai in April and to Beijing in June.

“This shows our commitment especially because we are operating 11 flights a week into mainland China,” he said. “It is significant that a proportion of the cabin crew operating the flights will be China based.”

This move is also a reflection of the strong demand for premium leisure travel post-Covid. 

“We’ve seen very strong demand, particularly in premium leisure, while we have other business travel recovering more slowly,” Laming said. “We have an incredibly strong summer, particularly from premium leisure, and also a strong festive season of Christmas and New Year. We’re hoping for a strong Chinese New Year season too.”

British Airways is seeing a pick up in some other segments too, such as students flying to the UK to study, according to Laming, adding that the carrier is offering special discounts for this market.

The airline now flies daily to Shanghai and four times a week to Beijing. But any possible expansion of routes or increase of frequencies will be subject to aircraft availability, which at the moment is a “real industry issue.”

British Airways isn’t the only carrier looking for Chinese-speaking crew. Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said in June that it plans to hire more cabin crew from mainland China and widen the use of Mandarin on flights. That move came less than a month after Cathay fired three flight attendants for disparaging passengers who didn’t speak English.

Laming also said British Airlines plans to leverage its partnership with China Southern Airlines Co., after starting a pact on flights between the UK and China in 2020 to boost the former’s capacity and access to China through the Chinese carrier’s flights. The deal means BA can sell tickets on China Southern flights, and vice versa.

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