Updated: Hong Kong airport cancels flights as protest enters second day

Hong Kong airport | Shutterstock

The massive protests in Hong Kong has further disrupted one of Asia’s top business hubs (and one of Vancouver’s main links to the region) as the city’s airport has cancelled all flights Monday in and out of the Chinese Special Administrative region.

As of Tuesday, officials are reporting some additional cancellations, although none of the departures or arrivals for the three air carriers serving the YVR-HKG route - Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines - are reporting cancellations, only some delays.

Reports say the conflict between protesters and police are intensifying outside Hong Kong International Airport's terminal on Tuesday, while tensions rose inside the building when some protesters zip-tied a man who they suspected to be an undercover policeman. A Mainland Chinese state-run newspaper said the man was a reporter for the publication.

Also on Tuesday, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam warned protesters that continued disruptions and clashes would lead the city "down a path of no return." The news comes as Chinese state media accused protesters of pushing towards "self-destruction" and unconfirmed reports - including a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump - that Chinese military personnel is moving towards the Mainland's border with Hong Kong.

Authorities say thousands of protestors filed into Hong Kong International Airport’s arrival lobby on Monday, where organizers say they are planning a three-day sit-in that is aimed at warding off what protestors say is a quickening erosion of Hong Kong’s judicial and government independence from Beijing under the “One Country, Two Systems” regime in place since 1997.

Hong Kong is the world's eighth busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, reaching 74.5 passengers last year. In the Pacific Rim region, that traffic figure is only surpassed by Beijing-Capital (second, 101 million), LAX (fourth, 87.5 million) and Tokyo-Haneda (5th, 87.1 million). As of Monday morning, no Hong Kong-bound flights from YVR have been cancelled according to flight data, although Cathay Pacific’s 3:05 p.m. departure has been delayed one hour. Air Canada’s 1:10 p.m. flight and Hong Kong Airlines’ noon flights are unchanged.

Arrivals from Hong Kong, however, are a different story. Air Canada’s scheduled 4:45 p.m. arrival from the city has been cancelled, and Cathay Pacific’s 1:30 p.m. arrival has been delayed to 2:46 p.m. No changes have been announced for Cathay’s 9:25 p.m. arrival or Hong Kong Airlines’ 10:11 arrival.

Air Canada officials confirmed that the 4:45 p.m. arrival from Hong Kong - AC8 - has been cancelled “due to the disruptions of Hong Kong International Airport's operations.” Officials did note that Monday’s AC16 flight from Hong Kong to Toronto - as well as the corresponding AC15 flight from Toronto to Hong Kong - has taken off before the flight cancellations were put in place.

Passengers on the cancelled HKG-YVR flight are being rebooked on the same flight on Tuesday, officials added.

“Air Canada has put in place a flexible re-booking policy for customers wishing to change their travel plans to/from Hong Kong,” the statement from Air Canada said. “Customers should review aircanada.com/flightstatus for all updates to their flights.

"We're continuing to monitor the situation closely," Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said. "As well, we recommend customers check the status of their flights."

Officials at Vancouver International Airport say that the terminal is operating smoothly, as of Monday, and has not been significantly challenged by disruptions in Hong Kong.

Media outlets reported that Cathay’s stock fell sharply to a 10-year low after the announcement that Hong Kong was cancelling all flights on Monday. Hong Kong’s flagship air carrier already made news ahead of the flight cancellations when it said earlier on Monday it will take "disciplinary actions" toward any staff member who takes part or support the pro-democracy protests.

The “zero-tolerance” statement comes after Beijing issued a warning over the weekend that Cathay workers who supported the protests openly would be barred from flying to Mainland China - as well as passing though Chinese airspace.

The unrests in Hong Kong emerged earlier this year, when the city’s government introduced a plan to legalize the expedition of suspects wanted in Mainland China to Chinese authorities. Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said the new regulation would have strengthened law enforcement in the city, while critics said the rule would have allowed Hong Kong police to arrest and deport suspects to a jurisdiction without a proper, independent judiciary.

That expedition rule has since been taken off the table, but the protests have expanded to a larger scale vocalizing young Hong Kong residents’ displeasure of not having the ability to directly choose candidates that would run for the city’s chief executive elections. Since Great Britain handed the former colony back to Chinese control in 1997, candidates in the chief executive election has been vetted by Beijing, and only a portion of the city’s Legislative Council are elected by direct proportional representation.

There has also been economic fears among the youth of the growing rich-poor gap, rising real estate prices and the loss of job opportunities as Hong Kong becomes more closely integrated with Mainland China.

Protests have taken on a more violent nature in the last week, with more violent clashes between police and protestors resulting in serious injuries. Protesters have also accused police of collaborating with triad members to suppress protests in certain neighbourhoods, a charge that authorities denies.

Business interests in the city has been noticeably divided in contrast to 2014’s Umbrella Movement protests in the city, when businesses spoke out against the protesters. This year’s protests, however, have sprouted some business statements supporting the protesters, including comments by the American Chamber of Commerce that called for “clear leadership” in Hong Kong to investigate protesters’ claims - as well as stressing government actions are hurting the city’s reputation as a safe place to do business.