HK airport to reopen as transit hub for passengers from China

HK airport to reopen as transit hub for passengers from China

A lone passenger walks through Hong Kong International Airport in February, before the full impact of Covid-19 was felt in the aviation industry. (South China Morning Post photo)
A lone passenger walks through Hong Kong International Airport in February, before the full impact of Covid-19 was felt in the aviation industry. (South China Morning Post photo)

Air passengers will be allowed to transit via Hong Kong International Airport from mainland China from Saturday until Oct 15, offering a minor boost to beleaguered Cathay Pacific Airways.

The Airport Authority Hong Kong (AAHK) confirmed on Thursday a temporary plan to resume transfer services from, but not to, the mainland, as Chinese aviation authorities continued to severely limit international travel to restrict imported cases of Covid-19.

The move confirms an earlier South China Morning Post report about planned short-term transit arrangements designed to help mainland students seeking to resume studies overseas.

Hong Kong airport has allowed flight transfers since June 1, but not to the mainland. 

Previously, all transit services were suspended from March 25.

The AAHK reiterated its transit rule arrangements that passengers needed to have flights booked on one ticket, receive boarding passes for all trips at check-in and bags checked through to their final destination.

Transit passengers could only layover in Hong Kong airport for 24 hours or less. Since the health crisis, scores of passengers have been stuck in airport transit for up to three months, prompting a tightening of rules and threats of heftier punishments for airlines.

Opening up mainland transits only one way means Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's largest airline and in a prime position to benefit, will not be able to capture a surge in inbound demand, which has prompted airfares to skyrocket.

Ronald Lam Siu-por, Cathay Pacific's chief customer and commercial officer, said on Wednesday the airline was prepared to add flights at short notice if needed, but at that time the airline had not received official news of the plan.

"If this happens in future, it would be much welcome news, certainly it would enhance our passenger volume via Hong Kong to different parts of the world," Lam said.

The company's planes have been less than 30% full since the airline started offering a skeleton flight schedule in April, with mainland flights at approximately 15% capacity, according to company data.

The data suggested Cathay had ample room to accommodate more transit customers on existing services without mounting additional flights or putting on larger planes to serve the mainland.

In normal times, Cathay Pacific is one of the largest non-mainland airlines operating in China with 23 airports. But as of August it is only flying to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xiamen a maximum of 11 times a week, a far cry from the 360 flights it was operating weekly before the pandemic.


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