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FlyerTalk Offers the Best Strategies for Flying (or Avoiding) Hong Kong Airport

FlyerTalk Offers the Best Strategies for Flying (or Avoiding) Hong Kong Airport
Jeff Edwards

Anti-government protests in Hong Kong have increasingly focused on the airport in recent weeks, making air travel to and from the Special Administrative Region of China a stressful and, at times, impossible prospect, but fortunately, the Flyertalk forums have the very latest updates, along with some helpful advice for travelers and just the right amount of experienced speculation.

The good news for air travelers is that an emergency court order preventing protesters from entering the terminals at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) has so far kept the facility from having to close again, as was the case three weeks ago. The bad news is that protests outside of the airport have made it extraordinarily difficult (and at times nearly impossible) for passengers to get to and from the terminal areas.

The South China Morning Post reports that the activists who occupied terminal buildings during previous protests have been replaced by masked protesters who have caused mayhem outside the airport buildings and have left ground transportation at the facility in complete disarray. According to the newspaper, vandalism to airport rail line stations caused the route to be suspended on Sunday. In some instances, large pieces of debris, including bricks and metal poles, were launched on the tracks by masked protesters. Because many of the access roads had also been blocked and, in some cases, barricaded by protesters, dozens of passengers and airline workers were forced to walk several miles to the city center to arrange transportation.

In addition to the chaos created by the increasingly more disruptive protest actions, a general strike called for September 2nd and 3rd has already led to delayed and canceled flights at HKG. The city’s airport has in many ways become the focus of protests as the sometimes violent civil unrest in Hong Kong (which started in late March) drags into its sixth month. As the world spotlight gradually shifts away from the plight, disruptions at the major air transportation hub are seen by protest leaders as a way to renew interest in the issues at hand on a global stage.

The strategy has been largely effective and has even drawn Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airlines into the fray. In August, several of the airline’s top executives, including former CEO Rupert Hogg, resigned rather than follow an order to report to Chinese officials the identities of employees sympathetic to the protest movement. Since then, the airline adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” for employees who support the “illegal” protests, including this week’s general strike. Cathay Pacific management has also circulated internal memos appearing to demand that workers inform on each other over any suspicions that coworkers might be participating in demonstrations, boycotts or strike actions.

The situation at HKG changes dramatically from one hour to the next – luckily, Flyertalkers are taking the time to report their very latest firsthand accounts of the volatile situation at the airport. Although it isn’t all bad news, the forums paint a picture of officials repeatedly taking one step forward and then two steps back in their efforts to restore order on the ground.

“Airport express suspended,” Flyertalk member “fakecd” wrote as of 4pm on Sunday. “Airport link bridge blocked, so need to walk from Tung Chung. Airport is still operating somewhat, but doubt any pax or staff can get in. Typhoon approaching HKG also, developing. Will be a mess to travel via HKG now and tomorrow.”

By later that evening, access to the airport had been restored for most traffic, a potential typhoon warning was expected to be downgraded and airport bus service had been mostly returned to schedule. Airport express train service remained suspended and protests were expected to continue through at least Tuesday.

Despite the apparent restoration of at least some roadways and public transportation options to and from the airport, other frequent Hong Kong travelers cautioned that protesters are not the only potential obstacle to travel. Less visible disruptions are predicted as well.

“A general strike is called for tomorrow for ALL citizens,” user deadinabsentia cautioned. “Air Traffic controllers, Bankers, shop workers.. government workers. Your trip might be inconvenienced in other ways.”

Although the Flyertalk community is of a general consensus that disruptions to air travel will remain rare following the week’s general strike and accompanying protests, a few helpful members offered advice learned from hard-earned experience. The best of this guidance applies to nearly all air travel and involves arriving at the airport with a strategy, as much knowledge possible and damned good travel insurance. More specifically, several Flyertalkers have suggested that exactly when air travelers choose to arrive at HKG could make a huge difference if protests are still underway.

“It might be a good idea to avoid Sundays, and possibly Saturdays (says someone who has some Sunday booking soon),” one Flyertalker offered. The user admitted that in addition to this being advice that was being completely ignored by the advice giver, it is also true that the previous HKG disruptions occurred on a Monday and Tuesday.

Another frequent Hong Kong visitor suggested that time of day might be key to avoiding unexpected hassles in getting ground transportation. Unfortunately, prediction of smooth sailing in the early morning hours has the ring of wishful thinking.

“Sounds ‘fluid,’” Flyertalker QRC3288 suggested. “In theory I think 6am should be a better chance than others, but we’ll see. Just glad I’m not at the airport now.”

“Hong Kong protests usually start later in the day,” olouie concurred. “Mornings should be fine until after lunch time (gotta get that dim sum in first). Afternoon into the night is the worst of it as things progressively get worse. I have a connection through HKG tonight and am dreading the general strike effects.”

The Flyertalk thread, which includes the latest dispatches from HKG, also offers the unique opportunity to learn from other travelers’ mistakes. Case in point: when the airport is surrounded by rioting, it might be better to spend time in an airport lounge rather than heading straight to baggage claim.

“Seems airport itself is operating but transport is an issue – meaning staff rotation/shift will suffer and evenings will be affected,” fakecd explained. “A word of advice: until things settle best remain airside for calm until situation clears (eg. train resumes). Arriving pax who landed and left airport found no taxi but weren’t allowed back in.”

Have you changed itineraries to avoid flights through Hong Kong International Airport recently? Is there a viable strategy for ensuring smooth travels through what is increasingly becoming a center of political upheaval or is a stress-free Hong Kong travel experience simply luck of the draw? Every gambler has a system and frequent flyers are no exception – the expert flyer community is busy reading both the good and the bad omens in Cathy Pacific Marco Polo Club forums.


[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]


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