By Austen Hufford, William Boston and Mike Bird
International airlines set about trying to reschedule flights
for throngs of passengers caught in the political turmoil engulfing
Hong Kong after authorities shut down the city's airport, one of
the world's busiest hubs.
Plane tracking company Flightradar24 AB said a total of 187
flights in Hong Kong were canceled Monday. The disruption came
after thousands of people descended on the arrival and departure
halls to protest the police's handling of long-running
demonstrations in the city. Check-in services were closed
midafternoon, with many flights set to arrive canceled or
Arrival and departure information showed flight cancellations
extending into Tuesday morning, threatening further disruption at
an airport that serves as a gateway to Asia for many business and
leisure travelers. Flightradar24 said 241 flights Tuesday were
One passenger caught up in Monday's chaos was Richard Berta, who
runs strategic partnerships in Asia for Alphabet Inc.'s Google. His
plane was diverted to Guangzhou, China, shortly before it was
expected to land in Hong Kong. Mr. Berta said passengers weren't
allowed to leave the aircraft, which set off back to Ulaanbaatar,
Mongolia, about 2 1/2 hours later.
His flight to Hong Kong was rescheduled for Wednesday but he
hasn't heard when he would fly back to Singapore, where he lives
and is expected to be at work Tuesday morning.
"I've got to reschedule a ton of meetings," he said.
Among major carriers Monday, American Airlines Inc. canceled its
flight to Hong Kong from Los Angeles but said its flight from
Dallas took off as scheduled, while United Airlines Holdings Inc.
canceled a flight from Guam but ran flights from Chicago and New
York as scheduled.
In Europe, British Airways, owned by International Consolidated
Airlines Group SA, said its two flights from Hong Kong to London
were affected by disruption. Germany's Lufthansa AG canceled two
flights to Hong Kong scheduled to depart from Munich and Frankfurt,
as well as two flights to Germany from Hong Kong.
"We can't check passengers into their flights in Hong Kong," a
Lufthansa spokesman said. "We are monitoring the situation and will
decide day by day about flights."
Qatar Airways said it redirected a flight destined for Hong Kong
back to Doha shortly after the airport was shut down. The
state-owned airline canceled both its flights from the Qatari
capital to Hong Kong and warned disruption could extend into
Hong Kong's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., canceled
dozens of flights to and from the city and said it wouldn't operate
some flights on Tuesday either. It advised customers to postpone
Cathay Pacific is the airline most affected by the stoppage as
the city is its main hub, said Helane Becker, an aviation analyst
with investment bank Cowen & Co. The impact could go beyond the
disruptions themselves, she added, if tourists decide against
visiting Hong Kong and chose to travel elsewhere, damping future
air travel to the city.
"If I'm going to spend the thousands of dollars it costs to fly
there, maybe it makes more sense for me to go elsewhere," Ms.
The disruption Monday isn't the first time demonstrations in
Hong Kong -- one of the world's leading financial centers -- have
affected the airport, which last year handled more than 400,000
flights and 75 million passengers as well as 5 million tons of
cargo. More than 200 flights were canceled a week earlier because
of a citywide strike.
The protests erupted earlier this summer over proposed
legislation that would have allowed anyone suspected of committing
a crime in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong
is a part of China but its citizens, who lived for a century under
British rule, enjoy more freedom and autonomy than those on the
While many stranded passengers expressed sympathy with the
protesters, they also said they were frustrated.
"I had sympathy with the protesters, but I'm carrying my
mother's ashes, and going to back to London for a funeral," said a
British traveler whose Qatar Airways flight was canceled. "This is
affecting ordinary people now."
Some people caught up in the unrest weren't set to even visit
Hong Kong but simply were changing flights there.
Greg Smith, a 46-year-old consultant, planned his trip months in
advance. He was flying with his wife and children to Sydney to
surprise his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. "I haven't
seen them in a while so this was my way of making up," he said.
"My heart is with the protesters," he added, "but why take your
anger on people who have nothing to do with the politics of Hong
Kong? This makes me mad."
Bucknell University Professor Zhiqun Zhu's evening flight to
Newark was canceled. He said fellow passengers lined up for hours,
trying to get on different flights. As of 11:30 p.m. in Hong Kong
he still wasn't booked on a new flight. Mr. Zhu and his family were
planning to sleep in the airport after Cathay Pacific declined to
provide them a hotel room, saying the cancellation wasn't the
airline's fault. The airline didn't immediately respond to a
request for comment.
"We are not going to sleep well tonight and, tomorrow, if we fly
somehow, it's going to be a 15-hour flight," Mr. Zhu said.
Still, not all of those affected had negative views of the
"I'm all about it. I'm an American, they're fighting for their
freedom too," said Mark Vahala, a U.S. citizen on an Asian business
trip, whose flight to Singapore was canceled.
--Preetika Rana and Michael Amon contributed to this
Write to Austen Hufford at firstname.lastname@example.org, William
Boston at email@example.com and Mike Bird at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 12, 2019 16:27 ET (20:27 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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