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What You Need to Know About the Hong Kong Airport Cancellations

The New York Times logo The New York Times 5 days ago Tariro Mzezewa
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Thousands of protesters swarmed Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday, the second consecutive day of pro-democracy demonstrations. © Philip Fong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Thousands of protesters swarmed Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday, the second consecutive day of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Tensions between police and protesters flared on Tuesday at Hong Kong International Airport, after the second consecutive day of protests forced the airport authority to ground all departing flights.

Thousands of protesters swarmed the terminals, disrupting operations at one of the world’s most important transportation hubs. Frustrated travelers confronted protesters blocking their way through the airport, leading to arguments and scuffles, at least one of which led to a physical altercation.

There are reports of clashes, pepper spray and protesters being arrested.

In a statement issued earlier in the day, the authority advised all passengers to leave the terminals, saying that operations have been “seriously disrupted.”

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.

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. The airport authority canceled, rerouted or rescheduled more than 150 flights on Monday.

Thousands of protesters returned on Tuesday, believing Monday’s demonstration had succeeded in drawing international attention to their plight.

Is it safe to travel to Hong Kong?

The Hong Kong Tourism Commission has said that the city is safe and open for tourists, but, according to preliminary numbers from the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the city saw a double-digit decline in visitor arrivals in the second half of July.

“The travel trade has reported that the number of forward bookings in August and September has dropped significantly,” a Hong Kong Tourism Board spokeswoman said.

Several governments have increased their safety alerts 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 has 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, a gateway to 220 destinations worldwide, with about 1,100 flights daily. 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. Many returned on Tuesday, believing Monday’s demonstration had succeeded in drawing international attention to their plight.

“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 Keyes, co-founder and chief executive of Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Many travelers stuck at the airport have expressed frustration at the situation.

“I am sympathetic for people who want changes, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to go about it,” said Pauline Price, a 52-year-old cinema manager from New Zealand. “The ad hoc protests destabilize the city. The ad hoc disruption just interfere with Hong Kong life so much that they might lose sympathy.”

I’m on an arriving flight. What should I expect when my plane lands?

On social media platforms, journalists, travelers and protesters shared photos and videos that show barricades made of stacked luggage carts, protesters blocking paths through the airport, and people shouting at each other, running away from protesters, hitting one another and, in one case, a protester pulling a passenger’s hair.

How long will flights be grounded?

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 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?

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,” Mr. Vlitas said.

“We recommend that impacted travelers consider looking for alternate modes of transportation or consider another airport if it is convenient,” said Johnny Quach, Chief Product Officer at AirHelp, the world’s largest organization for air passenger rights.

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.

Virgin Atlantic’s Tuesday flight to London is now scheduled to leave Hong Kong on Wednesday morning.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways canceled several flights to and from Hong Kong on Monday and Tuesday. The airline told its customers to postpone “nonessential travel” out of the city for the rest of the day and on Wednesday.

Daniel Victor contributed reporting from Hong Kong.

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