Flights resumed at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) today after a massive pro-democracy rally involving thousands of protestors ground the busy aviation hub to a complete halt on Monday with protestors vowing to return to the airport today.
More than 300 flights – an estimated 180 departures and 120 arrivals – were cancelled on Monday with the spill-over expected to ripple through Tuesday, even as the airport is now clear of protestors. While belly hold cargo was clearly impacted by the passenger flight disruptions, freighter flights were not affected and were operating normally.
The airport authority released a statement on Monday afternoon saying: “Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today. All check-in service for departure flights has been suspended.
“Other than the departure flights that have completed the check-in process and the arrival flights that are already heading to Hong Kong, all other flights have been cancelled for the rest of today,” the statement says.
But hundreds of passengers were never-the-less left stranded with little or no information as the airport became a chaotic sea of black-shirted, chanting protestors.
With no airline employees in sight, passengers replaced staff at check-in desks, sitting in their seats and waiting to find out when, or even if, their flights would depart, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.
A lack of information from airlines meant that – despite the cancellations – passengers kept arriving, not knowing flights had been cancelled for the day.
In what had been a largely peaceful protest starting from Friday and carrying over the weekend, by Monday an influx of further protestors and growing anger over police tactics sparked a noisier protest.
Protestors are increasingly angry over and incident that occurred on Sunday night in which a young woman lost her eye as a result of what protestors say was a bean-bag round fired by police. Protestors say it was both an unreasonable use of force and also violated police code which specifies the rounds are not to be fired at head level.
Unlike the previous shutdown of the airport, exactly a week earlier, in which air traffic controllers called in sick en masse, this shutdown was purely the result of protestors. While protestors had confined themselves to the arrivals area, a move to the departures area on Monday morning caused chaos for passengers attempting to check in.
Cathay Pacific advised passengers to “postpone non-essential travel”. The airline, which has come under pressure from Beijing, also warned its own staff that they could be fired for supporting “illegal protests”.
Meanwhile elsewhere in Hong Kong protests over the weekend ranged from peaceful, to violent clashes.