Hong Kong International Airport on Monday abruptly grounded all departing flights and kept 70 flights from arriving after thousands of protesters filled the airport, stranding air passengers at one of the world’s most important transportation hubs.
A statement on the airport’s website said that operations “have been seriously disrupted, all flights have been canceled,” and that all passengers should leave their terminal buildings as soon as possible.
Here’s what travelers to and from Hong Kong need to know.
What’s happening in Hong Kong?
Sparked by proposed legislation that would have changed extradition policies between Hong Kong and other places, including mainland China, antigovernment protests in Hong Kong are currently in their third month. Previous protests have occurred mainly downtown, in popular shopping areas and near government buildings. Monday’s protest came after clashes with the police on Sunday night, when the police fired tear gas inside one subway station and chased protesters down an escalator in another. Many of the protesters on Monday were angry that a woman at one of the protests had been hit by a projectile in her eye, and swarmed into the airport on Monday afternoon.
Is it safe to travel to Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s tourism commission has said that the city is safe and open for tourists. Many popular attractions, including the Ladies’ Market and the Peak Tram, have not been affected by the protests.
Several governments have increased their safety alerts for Hong Kong in recent weeks.
Five days ago, the U.S. State Department issued a level two travel advisory for Hong Kong, warning travelers to “exercise increased caution in Hong Kong due to civil unrest.”
On its Smart Traveller website, the Australian government says that it recommends that travelers “exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong” and mentions that the protests at the airport have intensified and caused “significant disruption.” The Australian Consulate in Hong Kong have sent officials to the airport to help Australians travelers.
Canadian authorities are encouraging travelers to also “exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong because of ongoing large-scale demonstrations.”
Why are protests happening at the airport?
Hong Kong International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, with 220 destinations worldwide. It is a crucial connection point for regional air travel and last year handled nearly 75 million passengers. A small group of protesters had been at the airport on Monday morning and the crowds grew throughout the day, eventually filling the arrival hall before more protesters went to the departure hall.
“Interrupting air travel is one of the best ways to galvanize attention of elites, opinion-makers and the type of people that take flights, especially international flights,” said Scott Scott Keyes, co-founder and chief executive of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Which airlines are affected and what are they doing?
More than 120 airlines fly in and out of Hong Kong International Airport, including most major world carriers, like British Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways.
Among the carriers based in the United States, United Airlines’ Monday flight from Hong Kong to Guam and its flight from Guam to Hong Kong were canceled. Flights from San Francisco, Chicago and New York City landed in Hong Kong as scheduled. The canceled United flights have travel waivers in place so customers can rebook.
American Airlines has two daily flights to Hong Kong, one from Dallas and another from Los Angeles. The flight from Dallas departed as scheduled, but the flight from Los Angeles was canceled. A spokeswoman for the airline said that travelers will be rebooked on the next available flight on American or a partner airline.
Two British Airways flights from Hong Kong to Heathrow were canceled. The airline is offering customers affected by the grounding the option to rebook or to take a full refund. Virgin Atlantic canceled its Hong Kong to London Heathrow flight. The airline advised travelers to check its website for updates. Both airlines still had flights from London to Hong Kong.
One Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Hong Kong was diverted back to Doha on Monday. Qatar runs two flights a day between Doha and Hong Kong — both were canceled.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways canceled several flights to and from Hong Kong on Monday and Tuesday.
Lufthansa, the German airline, canceled two flights from Hong Kong to Germany, and two flights from Munich and Frankfurt to Hong Kong.
I’m on an arriving flight. What should I expect when my plane lands?
One traveler told CNN that after getting off his flight from Cebu in the Philippines, it took almost an hour to exit the arrivals area. The airport’s taxi stand was closed and the airport train did not arrive, so he left the terminal, walked to the highway and got a taxi there.
Other travelers slept at the ticket counters.
“Groups of tourists are just sleeping and charging their phones around the check-in counter,” Katy Wong said in a Twitter post. “Can’t go home,” one traveler posted on Instagram, and another posted a video of people sleeping in the airport with the caption, “Will I be able to go back tomorrow?”
How long will flights be grounded?
As of Monday morning, flights departing Hong Kong were canceled until 7 a.m. on Tuesday. The airport is expected to reopen on Tuesday, but passengers should check their flight status before heading to the airport.
The best way to find out if your flight is canceled or delayed is to get in touch with the airline you’re traveling on. Some airlines, like Air Canada, have put in place a flexible rebooking policy for customers who want to change their travel plans to or from Hong Kong. Others, like British Airways, are offering the option to rebook on another date or to receive a full refund.
If you have travel insurance, it’s important to determine if it covers delays or interruptions of this nature.
“Say you live in New York and you’re heading to Hong Kong, but now you’re delayed because the airport is closed, or you’re in Hong Kong and looking to come home, or you’re traveling through Hong Kong, but now you’re delayed,” said Michael Grossman, who runs Starr Insurance Companies’ travel insurance business. Any of those scenarios, he said, might be covered under the trip delay benefit.
I’m traveling soon. What can I do and where can I get information?
The protests are expected to continue on Tuesday. Check with your airline about the status of your flight, or, if you booked your trip through a travel agent, you should get in touch with the agent if they have not reached out to you.
“As soon as we got word on the situation, we ran a list to identify our impacted passengers and began alerting them regarding flight cancellations and alternatives,” said Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Travel Leaders Group, a travel agency organization.
If you must travel to or from Hong Kong and have a China visa, you can go through Shenzhen or Guangzhou and travel by train to Hong Kong, Mr. Vlitas said. There is also a ferry that runs from Hong Kong to Shenzhen; it takes about an hour.
“Given the situation, airlines are offering full refunds for travel up to Aug. 15, however that date may be extended as events continue to develop.”
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