Hong Kong Airport Protests: What Should This Mean For Your Flight?

Update: The protests will start at 1 PM local time on Friday, August 9, and more or less continue until Sunday night.

Update: The allegations of boarding pass checks are correct, and there’s currently a bottleneck at the departures area as most staff are busy manning the arrivals area; those travelling out of Hong Kong this weekend are advised to get to the airport at least 3 hours before departure.

That being said, YTHK is happy to report that most departing travellers have reported that the process lasted under a minute, and posed no risk of missing your flight.

Photo credit: Danny Lee, my friend from SCMP

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Wow. I wasn’t expecting Hong Kong’s situation to escalate as badly as it did. While I wasn’t at the protests (by the time I’d returned from Tokyo and settled down, the protests had gone way too far out of hand), I am very aware of the situation that’s happening, and have kept myself updated real-time.

This is a good time to mention that I’m strongly against using public disruption to prove a point. Personally, while I have huge problems with the implementation of the extradition bill as well as the (kindly speaking) inadequate government response, current protesters overestimate their own ability and underestimate the complexity of Hong Kong’s politics, and I dislike their “we’re putting your lives in danger short-term so we can save Hong Kong” self-christened heroic mentality (and don’t get me started on the mistakes that the police also made, but I’m focusing on what we can do to help as civilians).

If anything, defacing national emblems and repeatedly throwing the Chinese flag into the sea is just a reason for the world to believe that Hong Kong doesn’t have the stability to survive independently. I’m no political expert, though my ~4 years of teaching experience speaks that tantrums do not solve disputes, no matter how in the wrong the other person is (and don’t get me wrong, I wholly support the non-violent protests that still happen from time to time, as I agree that you should stand up for what you believe); it’s sad to watch so many daily lives disrupted by activities that I personally believe just put people in danger.

Alright, back to aviation. It’s been announced that gatherings will be held in Hong Kong Airport from Friday, August 9 to Sunday, August 11.

I wanted to compile a short list of good-to-knows for all travellers going through Hong Kong over the next couple of days, given that there’s understandably a bit of fear involved (I’m actually landing Hong Kong Airport a day after the airport protests, so I’m not sure how that’ll play out).

No airlines are offering free changes or cancellations based on these airport protests

August 5th was Hong Kong’s biggest strike ever, where people rioted…I mean, protested in seven different locations across the city. Various airlines, especially Cathay Pacific, cancelled a majority of their flights out of Hong Kong (as their crewmembers were out on strike), and opened up the opportunity for passengers to reschedule non-urgent travel. That isn’t happening this weekend.

If you have a flight booked out this weekend, you should still expect to fly out this weekend.

Airport protests are unlikely to turn violent…though it certainly isn’t impossible

Violent protests have been going on in Hong Kong since the beginning of July, and the protesters have already rioted at the airport on July 26. Despite heightened emotions, the protest didn’t end up turning awry. The general consensus is that this weekend’s protests will turn out similarly to the July 26 protest, as opposed to the much more chaotic protests that happened on the streets during the preceding days, as well as the days after.

The main reason airport protests are more peaceful is the indoor space and heightened security. There won’t be as many projectiles available, and airports are generally some of the most secure places in the world (because of the post 9/11 movement, and the general stakes of security in air travel). Expect some not-so-subtle vandalism here and there, though I do predict that violence will stay under control.

Does this mean you shouldn’t be extra cautious? No. Police aren’t allowed to teargas indoors, though they’ve already broken a couple of rules in the past month. In addition to that, triads in white have appeared to attack protesters on multiple occasions, and there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen at the airport (though given the heightened security over the weekend, it’s quite unlikely). Just don’t show up with a baton and a switchblade, and remember that if attacks do happen, the protesters and airport authorities will be targeted before you are.

Which areas of the airport will be affected?

The main objective of the airport protests are to garner international support, so protesters have called their gathering a “tourist reception”, where arriving passengers will be “greeted” by 10,000 protesters. So the arrivals hall will be the main “target” of this weekend’s protests.

That being said, there’s no question that protesters will spill into the departures area, and the entire landside area of the airport will be more crowded/chaotic than usual. Reports say that those who aren’t holding a valid same-day e-ticket will not be allowed to pass through to the check-in counters, so make sure you have a copy of your e-ticket with you, whether it be printed, or online.

Of course, this means that a few other areas will be extra crowded this weekend:

  • The road to/from the airport, since passengers are taking taxis or driving to the airport, and there will definitely be a hefty queue for parking
  • Bus rides to/from the airport will become much more crowded
  • The Airport Express will definitely be crowded (this is probably the way most will select to head to the airport, since free same-day return tickets are provided)

The Airport Express will be more crowded than usual this weekend

This means that if you have a flight out this weekend, you should definitely aim to get to the airport over 3 hours before departure, since getting into the airport will be somewhat of a hectic experience.

I’m scheduled to land this weekend…what should I do?

On July 26, airport staff arranged special exit-ways for those leaving the arrivals area. These will most likely remain enforced this weekend.

You should expect to observe high emotions from the crowd there, though you generally shouldn’t expect leaving the airport to be too much of a hectic experience – though once again, I’d recommend you to stay alert and on your feet. Protesters aren’t allowed anywhere near sterile areas, and airport authorities have been notified of these protests in advance, so the airport will be well-prepared for your arrival.

The entire population is currently somewhat divided into those wearing black or those wearing white, so I’d recommend you pick another colour while flying to Hong Kong (though if you’re travelling to Hong Kong, you should lay off on black and/or white clothes altogether for the next few months).

I’m flying out of Hong Kong Airport this weekend…what should I do?

If you’re flying out of Hong Kong Airport this weekend, you should arrive over 3 hours before departure, due to the additional security checks. I wouldn’t expect those to operate too smoothly, as they are short-term solutions. Once again, wear something sensible (not all black or all white), and don’t walk into areas where you could get yourself into trouble – if you’re in the arrivals hall, you won’t be under special protection.

If you have booked a service that requires passing through the arrivals hall (e.g. getting a Klook SIM card), I’d advise you to make alternative arrangements ASAP.

I’m transferring through Hong Kong Airport this weekend…what should I do?

If you’re transferring on an itinerary where you don’t need to head landside (to get baggage or whatnot), you shouldn’t be affected at all by the protests.

If you need to go landside, the same advice as above applies – stay out of trouble, don’t wear all black or all white, and consult your airline if your transfer time is a little too tight for comfort.

I need to head to the airport…what should I do?

Firstly, the airport will be chaotic enough as is this weekend. If you’re picking up a friend or simply there to planespot, I’d suggest that this weekend isn’t the best time to do so, and you should just meet your friend at the Airport Express terminal.

The reason why is that while arriving passengers will receive special care to ensure their safety, if you’re greeting a friend you’re essentially joining the “reception” area with 10,000 protesters. Tensions will simmer away, with risks of brawls every so often – regardless of how much calmer these protests are compared to street protests, you’re yet another obstacle in everyone’s way if things do go awry, so you’re better off holding off that long-awaited hello and staying out of trouble.

If you are heading to the airport, either as a limousine driver or to pick up an unaccompanied minor, the same as above applies; you’re best off not wearing anything black or white, and you should save yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.

Bottom Line

While Hong Kong’s tensions are in no way harmless at this moment in time, airports are built with the security measures and capabilities to handle the worst of situations. If you’re an arriving passenger, rest assured that both airport authorities and police will do their very best to make sure you stay out of trouble; though do keep on guard in the unlikely event that things go awry (and refrain from wearing anything that’s all black or all white). If you’re receiving an arriving passenger this weekend, you’re best off not doing so at the airport, or at least be sensible with your clothing choice. If you’re a departing passenger, print out your e-ticket or have a copy ready before getting to the airport, and leave plenty of time before your flight, as you’re going to face longer queues than usual.

Hong Kong remains to be in somewhat of a sad state, and most of the population remains divided; I’m a supporter of standing up for what you believe in, but in no way a supporter of using violence to fight for it. Shame on those who believe messing up Hong Kong and disrupting others’ daily lives makes themselves a heroic fighter of Hong Kong’s legal freedom and independence; that being said, for those peacefully standing up against the extradition bill at the airport this weekend, I wish you all the very best.

Is anyone flying in/out of Hong Kong this weekend?

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