Hong Kong: Airlines ‘abandon’ travellers

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As flights resumed at Hong Kong international airport, hundreds of travellers were still left with uncertain itineraries and little support from airlines as they struggled to make new arrangements.

The airport was brought to a standstill a day earlier, on Monday, as thousands of protesters swamped its arrivals halls to protest against police tactics at demonstrations over the weekend, prompting the abrupt cancellation of hundred of flights on Monday afternoon.

Hong Kong is home to one of the world’s busiest airports, with millions relying on the airport for connecting flights each month.

The airport authority, however, and a number of airlines appeared poorly equipped to handle disruptions this week as almost all staff were sent home late Monday afternoon, leaving many travellers to fend for themselves when they landed.

“We’ve pretty much had to do everything ourselves. They’ve given us two phone numbers which nobody picks up,” said Australian Kelly Venz who was flying through Hong Kong to France on British Airways when all flights were cancelled

Airline crew members walk past anti-government protesters during a demonstration at Hong Kong airport.
 Airline crew members walk past anti-government protesters during a demonstration at Hong Kong airport. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Venz ended up sleeping on the floor of the airport, where the only food available on Monday night were snacks donated by protesters.

“I did have one [protester] come up and explain the situation to me, why they were doing it,” she said. “They also came around and were giving out food and water to everybody which was very nice of them, I suppose, given the circumstances because there was no staff here whatsoever except at the information desk.

Venz said she was forced to rebook on a separate airline after paying £1,100 as the only British Airways flight available was on 18 August.

Mohit Anand, who was travelling to Australia from India with his wife Swetha when their connection was cancelled, said they were still uncertain as to when their flight on Qantas had even been rescheduled on Tuesday.

The couple said Qantas had failed to answer any telephone calls and they had been waiting since morning for the service desk to reopen at 5pm.

“All they did was give us a piece of paper and say call us. We’ve been doing this since yesterday,” Anand said.

Russian tourist Maria Loznevaya said her flight to Hong Kong had been delayed for eight hours from Dubai due to the protests, but seemed somewhat sympathetic with the protests.

Protesters surround banners that read: ‘Those on the street today are all warriors!’ centre top, and ‘Release all the detainees!’
 Protesters surround banners that read: ‘Those on the street today are all warriors!’ centre top, and ‘Release all the detainees!’ Photograph: Vincent Thian/AP

“We understand the protesters because we have protests in Moscow too and we understand the situation,” she said, referring to peaceful demonstrations in Russia that have also ended in chaos and police violence over the summer.

Sympathy with protesters, who plastered the arrivals and departures hall in information about the city’s recent protest movement, was not universal amongst stranded travellers.

On Monday night, one Australian man was filmed arguing with protestersabout the disruptions they had caused. He told protesters the Hong Kong police “should actually not be restrained” due to the conduct of protesters, according to the footage. (theguardian.com)

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