For a city that’s no stranger to strong typhoons, the unprecedented turmoil across Hong Kong does not seem to end as protesters shift their focus back to Hong Kong airport, hindering access to one of the world’s busiest international transit hubs. The city’s international airport saw a significant drop in air passengers as political unrest in the Asian financial hub continue unabated.
Protesters hinder access to Hong Kong Airport
The sharp decline in air passenger numbers was mainly due to a decrease in visitor traffic from around the region. As the airport has been vital to the economy of Hong Kong, protesters resorted to obstruct access to it. They marched to a subway stop close to the airport, blocking a major access road. Even express trains connecting the city to the international airport was suspended – first because of a decision from authorities, and later because demonstrators had flung objects on the track. Moreover, sustained demonstrations caused airlines to delay and cancel flights, and left passengers with few ways to get to the airport. Many had to get off at nearby bus terminals and make their way to the airport. Protesters had prompted clashes with police, transportation snarls and confusion.
Dramatic Drop in Air Passenger Numbers
The ongoing tension is a heavy blow to a wide range of economic activities including retail and tourism. Hong Kong’s airport is adversely affected with increasing number of flight delays and cancellations. The major Asian hub ranked among the world’s most efficient, has been facing a sharp decline in the number of air passengers. Since the beginning of the unrest in August, airline bookings have decreased by 10%. Owing to this drop off, hotel and air operators are slashing service and fares to the city.
Airlines Slash Service and Prices
Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s home airline has been hit particularly hard after a 11.3% drop in demand. The airline has been cutting flights since the protest started. It has cancelled about 272 flights in the past two days, affecting more than 55,000 passengers. United Airlines too is downgrading several aircrafts flying to Hong Kong in order to reduce the number of empty seats flying across the Pacific. Also it suspended its nonstop flights between Chicago and Hong Kong because it couldn’t sell enough seats. On the other hand, American Airlines is the only carrier that has so far not made any capacity cuts to its routes.
As a result of the cuts, prices fell precipitously. Autumn rates for airlines flying from the west coast to Hong Kong have fallen into the $400 – $600 range. Not only the airline tickets, even hotel prices have been slashed by as much as 70% as occupancy rates have dropped by one half. If demand for Hong Kong travel continue to remain weak, budget travelers may be in for a boon unforeseen since the SARS epidemic.