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Cathay Pacific, British Airways Quickly Add Hong Kong Flights After Quarantine Dropped

Edward Russell

September 23rd, 2022

Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Airport

If there has been one trend that’s proven true time and time again during the pandemic, it is that travel demand pops the moment countries drop border restrictions. That is proving true again in Hong Kong, where the special administrative region of China will end its mandatory three-day hotel quarantine on September 26.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s hometown airline, said Friday that it will add “more than 200 pairs of passenger flights” to both Asian and long-haul destinations to its schedule in October following the move. Among the flights will be a return to Tokyo Haneda on November 1, and Sapporo on December 1. Japan fully reopens to foreign visitors on October 11.

The easing of entry rules is expected to “help boost sentiment for travel, thereby facilitating the gradual resumption of travel activities and strengthening of network connectivity to, from and through the Hong Kong aviation hub,” Cathay said.

British Airways will also resume flights to Hong Kong following the change. The Oneworld Alliance carrier will restart four-times weekly flights from London Heathrow on December 5, and raise it to daily flights from December 18. British Airways suspended service in December 2021 when the city reinstituted strict border controls during the Omicron surge late last year.

But the damage to Hong Kong’s status as a major aviation hub — it once proudly bore the slogan “Asia’s World City” — may already be done. Cathay, even with its plans to resume flights, is a shadow of its former self. Much of the airline’s fleet remains in storage, and it has lost a significant number of staff during the crisis.

“Hong Kong has lost its position as a global hub and will struggle to regain it because other hubs have taken advantage of it,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said on September 21. He blamed the government’s policies, rather than the Covid virus, for the loss of hub status.

In August, Cathay carried just 253,907 passengers. That represents a dramatic improvement from the days during the pandemic when its traffic could be described in terms of several of its Boeing 777 aircraft, but the number also remains down more than 91 percent from 2019.

And many fear that a long-planned third runway at Hong Kong’s airport that opened in July risks becoming a white elephant. The airport handled 479,000 passengers in August, or 8 percent of the number it saw three years earlier. A new concourse and luggage handling system are also under construction at the airport.

While Cathay and Hong Kong’s airport will eventually bounce back, the government’s severe Covid rules could mean the flow of air travelers connecting in the city-state is forever changed. It will likely take years for Cathay to resume the amount of flying it did before the pandemic, particularly given the struggles airlines in seemingly better positions faced elsewhere around the world this summer. And some carriers, including American Airlines and Virgin Australia, have said they do not intend to return to Hong Kong for the foreseeable future.

Only time will tell what will happen with Hong Kong. In addition to British Airways return, Qantas Airways and Swiss Air will restart flights in October, according to Diio by Cirium schedules. And United Airlines, the largest U.S. airline to Asia, plans to resume flights from San Francisco in January and Newark in March.

Airline seats at the Hong Kong airport are scheduled at 61 percent of 2019 levels in December, Diio data show.

Edward Russell

September 23rd, 2022

Photo credit: Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Airport Flickr / justaslice

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