In a fast unfolding situation, flights into and out Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok have been delayed and cancelled, putting waves of passengers between protesters and Chinese authorities and effectively shutting down one of the world’s busiest airports.
The action comes on the heels of more than two months of mass protests in Hong Kong urging democratic reforms and an investigation into police conduct.
The protests, which have been escalating in recent weeks, had their origin in February after a murder in Taiwan resulted in the suspect fleeing to Hong Kong. However, under the regional policies governing the former British colony, formal extradition arrangements do not exist between Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Thus a bill was introduced in Hong Kong that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people who are wanted in countries or territories that Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements with, including mainland China and Taiwan.
Opponents of the legislation fear, however, saw that such an act would place Hong Kong residents and visitors under the jurisdiction of mainland courts in Beijing and open up the system to not only apply to criminals, but to political dissidents as well. Demonstrations against the bill first occurred in March and following weeks of more peaceful protests, have seen a sharp escalation in violence with riot police using tear gas, rubber bullets and other crowd control tactics.
As of Monday, protests spilled over to the airport as thousands of people stormed arrival and departure halls in response to anger over how police have been handling the street protests in recent weeks. The U.S. State Department issued an official warning Wednesday to prevent travelers from heading to Hong Kong. The warning stated:
“Since June 2019, several large scale and smaller political demonstrations have taken place in various areas of Hong Kong. Most have been peaceful, but some have turned confrontational or resulted in violent clashes. The protests and confrontations have spilled over into neighborhoods other than those where the police have permitted marches or rallies. These demonstrations, which can take place with little or no notice, are likely to continue.”
The Wall Street Journal reported the cancelling of more than 130 outbound flights. The news source also reported leaks that Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific threatened to fire staff who supported protests against the city’s government, noting the delicate position of the airline in this deepening crisis. The city’s flag carrier must also avoid alienating its own local customer base and much of its own workforce and at the same time placate authorities in Beijing to avoid possibility of a purge.
The turmoil has led to the stranding of thousands of travelers, who are advised to remain in Hong Kong until the crisis blows over. They can also try to pick up lift through nearby Shenzhen, Guangzhou or Macao, although those options could prove to be expensive. Cathay Pacific is offering to work with passengers on their tickets:
Through a report from the U.K.’s Independent Cathay Pacific said: “With immediate effect, rebooking and rerouting charges will be waived for all tickets issued worldwide (irrespective of fare type) on or before 12 August for travel with Cathay Pacific on a confirmed booking arriving to and departing from Hong Kong on 12 and 13 August.”