Aviation

Hong Kong protests: Qantas and VA grounded, Cathay Pacific heeled by Beijing

Qantas and Virgin Australia are among the many airlines caught up in the flight chaos in Hong Kong, as pro-democracy protests continue.

On Monday, Hong Kong International Airport – one of the busiest in the world – was forced to cancel all flights in and out of the territory.

Thousands of peaceful, pro-democracy protesters entered the airport for a sit-in on the tenth consecutive week of protests, a week after a demonstration brought Hong Kong’s transport to a standstill.

A spokesperson for Qantas told Travel Weekly the airline had cancelled four flights from Hong Kong and another four from Australia that were due to operate Monday night and Tuesday morning.

“We are planning to operate Qantas flights scheduled to depart Hong Kong on Tuesday evening,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

“We are providing affected customers with options to rebook their flights. Customers should check their flight details on the Qantas flight status page.”

A Virgin Australia spokesperson told Travel Weekly the closure of Hong Kong International Airport resulted in the delay of flights VA82 and VA68 to Tuesday morning.

Virgin Australia said that guests who provided their contact details were sent revised flight details directly.

“At this stage, all other Virgin Australia flights are operating as expected however we continue to monitor the situation and advise guests to check their flight status on our website before heading to the airport.

“If there are any changes to flights, we will be in contact with guests directly,” a spokesperson for the airline said in a statement.

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Flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has not been immune to the flight cancellations either, having reportedly been forced to scrap more than 200 flights to and from the airport on Tuesday, while the South China Morning Post reported that more than 300 flights had been cancelled in total today.

In a statement on its website, Hong Kong International Airport said it would begin rescheduling flights on Tuesday, with flight movements expected to be affected.

“Passengers are reminded to pay attention to the latest flight information through the airport’s website and ‘HKG My Flight’ mobile app,” the statement read.

“Please confirm the flights before heading to the airport. Passengers can also check with their airlines for the latest flight information.”

An Australian man seemingly impacted by one of the 150 international flight cancellations was filmed telling pro-democracy protesters that they should be brought to “law and order” by police, as aired by SBS. 

The latest peaceful protests and airport sit-ins come as demonstrations against police brutality, with multiple reports and footage over the past weeks depicting armed forces clashing violently with pro-democracy protesters.

This comes after Cathay Pacific reportedly sacked two of its ground crew for supporting the protests, while suspending another for “misconduct”, as reported by The Guardian.

Allegedly, Cathay Pacific sacked its staff after bowing to pressure from Beijing who also issued a directive to the airline to ban all staff supporting the protests from working on flights in and out of Chinese airspace.

The Guardian added that China’s aviation regulator has also ordered the airline to hand-over “identifying information” for staff on mainland routes “effective immediately”.

The airline has reportedly complied with these demands and told staff that pro-democracy protests that are not authorised by authorities are “illegal” and that if they take part in them they will be banned from flights.

“Cathay Pacific Group’s operations in mainland China are key to our business. In addition to flying in and out of mainland China, a large number of our routes both to Europe and to the USA also fly through mainland China airspace,” Cathay Pacific’s chief executive, Rupert Hogg, said, as reported by The Guardian.

Beijing’s position on the protests hasn’t changed, but the Communist-led state has upped its rhetoric by calling the pro-democratic “demonstrations” the first signs of “terrorism”, as reported by Al Jazeera.

On Tuesday, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) updated its travel advice to Hong Kong, maintaining that visitors exercise a “high degree of caution”.

DFAT advises that Australians requiring consular assistance contact the Consular Emergency Centre or the Australian Consulate.

Featured image source: AFP.

For a breakdown of what you need to know about the Hong Kong protests as a travel professional, click here.

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