Hundreds of flights cancelled leaving travellers facing chaos as citywide strike action hits HK International Airport

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

A paralysing citywide strike as part of the escalating anti-government protests forced Hong Kong airport authorities to cancel some 230 flights on Monday morning.

Air traffic controllers have called in sick en masse, echoing the actions of an estimated 500,000 Hongkongers from more than 20 business sectors.

The number of flights that can take off, or land, has been affected as a result, and authorities said only one of the two runways would be in operation from midday on Monday until 6am on Tuesday.

Only 34 flights would be allowed per hour during that, instead of up to the 68 per hour that normally take off from the city’s international airport. Flights around Asia bore the brunt of the cancellations.

The strike is part of the protests that have rocked the city for more than two months, with protesters demanding the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, which has already been shelved, and an independent investigation into the government’s poor handling of the political crisis.

More than 1,000 passenger flights were scheduled to depart and arrive in Hong Kong on Monday, with 511 services departing the city, according to the airport authority’s website. By 8.30am, 117 departures and 98 arrivals had been cancelled.

The city’s airlines, Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, HK Express and Hong Kong Airlines, all advised passengers to check before they travelled to the airport on Monday.

Cathay and Hong Kong Airlines both offered travel waivers to rebook or re-route, while Cathay Pacific “strongly” recommended against non-essential travel.

For some, just getting to the airport proved a challenge, with protesters in the city forcing the Airport Express train service to be briefly suspended.

Earlier, Cathay Pacific Group, which operates Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, and HK Express, had reduced the number of cabin crew to a minimum to ensure as many flights as possible would take off, as it had recognised a large number of flight attendants and some pilots would call in sick.

Airport information showed that eight of the 19 flights to Taipei operated by Cathay had been axed, as were half of the 10 flights to Beijing, while seven out of 15 services to Shanghai Pudong were cancelled.

Only one in four Hong Kong Airlines services to the Chinese financial hub would operate.

In Asia, four out of 10 Bangkok flights were scrubbed by Cathay, while Hong Kong Airlines axed three of its seven flights.

Tech professional Davis Ng, 45, saw his Cathay Pacific flight to Singapore at 2.30pm flight cancelled and opted to buy a Singapore Airlines flight at 8am instead.

“I don’t think it is inconvenient for me to change to an earlier flight and to get ready at 5am. The message had already been clear to me that there would be a big strike in Hong Kong today. People understand what the situation is about and the traffic to the airport this morning was quite smooth,” Ng said.

Filipino domestic helpers Angiels Rondalas, 67, and her friend Amelia Quia arrived for their 1pm flight to Manila at 8am to avoid the disruption, only to find it had been cancelled.

“Now we are stranded,” Rondalas said. “I have been in Hong Kong for 30 years and never seen things like this.

“Even on my vacations now I don’t leave the house to be safe, we are foreign so we don’t go to those rallies. We just go with the flow to be safe.”

On Monday morning, the airport authority put barriers up at every check-in desk aisle so it could carry out crowd control measures, anticipating travellers would still turn up to seek help for cancelled flights.

It is uncertain if other airport staff would join the strike action, with companies waiting to see if baggage handlers and check-in desk staff also call in sick.

The strike hit at the height of the summer, when packed flights generate most of the profits for airlines, dealing a blow to the publicly listed Cathay Pacific Group.

Shares in Hong Kong’s largest airline fell 3.13 per cent to HK$10.52 a share at the opening of market trading on the city’s stock exchange.

The company has been weathering the effects of the US-China trade war, of which it is sensitive to as the fifth largest cargo airline, nevertheless, its shares are trading at its lowest since October 2018.

Cathay will release its financial results for the first half of 2019 on Wednesday.


Category: Hong Kong

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