Day after grounding all flights, anti-government protesters move into departures area on their return to HK International Airport

14-Aug-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Anti-government protesters have severely disrupted air travel for a second straight day, forcing Hong Kong International Airport to suspend check-in services for all departing flights.

The Airport Authority announced on Tuesday afternoon that only passengers checked in before 4.30pm would be able to fly. Incoming flights for the rest of the day would continue.

Hundreds of demonstrators had occupied the area around the check-in aisles from about 2.30pm, before making their way towards departure gates in an escalation of their protest, while at least 1,000 remained in the arrivals section.

A day earlier, protesters similarly prevented passengers from checking in or clearing security, forcing the cancellation of all flights in and out of the city from 4pm.

In a sign of fraying tempers among the travelling public on Tuesday, a woman was seen trying to break through protesters’ lines towards the northern departure gate of Terminal 1, shouting “I want to go home”. Her passage was blocked by protesters, before airport staff stepped in.

Protester Anson Ng, who said members of his group were hurt as the irate female traveller was pulled from the seated crowd, said demonstrators must not “panic flee” like they did on Monday in reaction to “people spreading fake news” about police launching a clearance.

The 19-year-old said: “We have learned a lesson.”

A family of three from Thailand was left in tears after they were blocked yet again by protesters. They had been scheduled to fly on Monday, but their flight was cancelled because of the earlier sit-in.

“You can fight with your government, but not me, understand? I just want to go home!” said a Thai woman, who was also comforting her son.

“We pay money to your country but you do this to us… we will never come here again.”

As of noon, the Airport Authority said there were fewer take-offs and landings at the airport as the statutory body worked with airlines to reschedule flights still backlogged from the day before.

It said the airport’s emergency centre had been activated in response to the threat of another public assembly.

The Airport Express train, meanwhile, would run at 15-minute intervals, less frequently than usual.

Some backroom staff at Hong Kong’s flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways were asked to leave work from lunchtime, with company buses taking office workers home from 2pm.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China on Tuesday announced arrangements to help travellers between Hong Kong and mainland China, by boosting airlines’ capacity and handling ticket transfers and refunds. It added it would increase transfer capacity at other airports in southern China.

The national flag carrier Air China said it would add extra flights between Beijing and Shenzhen, the mainland city neighbouring Hong Kong, for the rest of the day.

Three of its Hong Kong-bound flights were diverted to Shenzhen on Monday.

Long lines of passengers formed in the departure hall at check-in counters as the airport tried to recover from Monday’s chaos and airlines worked to clear their backlogs, while others were seen sleeping after camping at the airport overnight.

The Airport Authority encouraged passengers to check the latest flight information on its app and to confirm details before heading to the airport.

Figures published by the Travel Industry Council revealed the level of disruption among guided tours, with nearly 100 groups, comprising thousands of passengers, having their trips cancelled or delayed in and out of Hong Kong, as of 1pm on Tuesday.

Among those left stranded was Ecuadorean Nelson Cevallos, who had been scheduled to fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai on Spring Airlines at 5.50pm on Monday.

“It was a disaster,” he said.

There were no staff around to help when the protests took off, he said, and the information counter only gave him a number to call.

A Brazilian passenger who only gave her surname Pires said she had to pay a lot of money for a hotel room after her Shanghai flight was cancelled. She was unable to get on a Tuesday flight and was booked to fly on Wednesday.

“I know it is not the airline’s fault, but I just really want to go home,” said Pires, who lives in Shanghai. The airline told her it would not provide her with any accommodation.

“I will check if I have insurance. I paid for everything myself,” she said, adding she would take the opportunity to do some sightseeing.

Spring Airlines passengers unable to get on a Tuesday flight were given a note saying passengers who had booked flights with the carrier on or before August 12 would be able to transfer to flights up until August 25 for free.

Lillian Kok, a retiree from Tai Po, who arrived almost six hours early for her 3pm flight to Malaysia, questioned protesters’ tactics, saying they could risk damaging Hong Kong’s reputation.

“I don’t mind the protests; it’s OK to have demands,” she said.

“When we were young we sat [protesting] for hours in Victoria Park but then we would leave.

“But the airport is the city’s gate. What will people think when they arrive and see this?”

Airlines were critical of protesters for the disruption they caused on Monday.

In a statement, Cathay Pacific Airways said Monday’s protest had damaged Hong Kong’s status as an international aviation hub by seriously disrupting the journeys of thousands of passengers.

“We’d like to make it absolutely clear that we do not condone such behaviour,” it said.

The airline said it was working closely with the local airport authority and the mainland’s Civil Aviation Department to minimise disruption.

Hong Kong Airlines, which is controlled by mainland Chinese conglomerate the HNA Group, took out adverts in newspapers condemning violent acts, saying they openly challenged the principle of “one country, two systems”, and expressed its support for the city’s government and police.

They urged the city to “calm down all riots and protect Hong Kong”.

In the wake of the government’s shelving of the extradition bill, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent back to the mainland, protesters have been trying to broadcast their demands to an international audience.

The five demands of the movement include the bill’s full withdrawal and an independent investigation into police’s use of force at demonstrations, as well as genuine universal suffrage.


Category: Hong Kong

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