Airport Cancels Flight Check-Ins: Hong Kong Update

Annie Lee, Yvonne Man and Sebastian Chau
Airport Cancels Flight Check-Ins: Hong Kong Update

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s airport halted check-ins for remaining departures for a second straight day, as embattled local leader Carrie Lam warned that the city risked sliding into an “abyss.”

Hundreds of black-shirted protesters staged a sit-in at the departures hall at Hong Kong International Airport, preventing checked-in passengers from reaching their planes. Airlines including Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. had already cancelled hundreds more flights Tuesday, the day after the government decided to briefly shut the airport during a mass demonstration in the arrivals area.

Thousands of black-clad demonstrators occupied the airport on Monday following a weekend of violence that saw police fire tear gas into a subway station and rubber bullets at close range.

Here’s the latest:

Key Developments:

Crowds of demonstrators congregated again at the airport Tuesday, and the main terminal’s departures gates were forced to close. Shares of Cathay Pacific extended their slide after falling to a 10-year low Monday. The carrier fell 2.6% Tuesday in Hong Kong, closing at the lowest since April 2009.Lam defended the police response and warned of long-term consequences to city from the unrest. The Civil Human Rights Front detailed plans for peaceful march Sunday. China said protesters showed signs of “terrorism.”Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times, said that if the situation in Hong Kong doesn’t improve, he thinks China will intervene.

#antiELAB protesters stream out of the Hong Kong airport #HongKongProtests #香港 pic.twitter.com/He5Sfal5Ol

— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 12, 2019

Check-ins for Remaining Flights Cancelled (5:35 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority said Tuesday that check-ins for all remaining departing flights had been cancelled.

Cathay Pacific’s parent company, Swire Pacific Ltd., said it has “consistently and resolutely” supported Hong Kong’s development and remains fully committed to the city.

Departure Gates Closed (4:23 p.m.)

The airport closed its north and south departure gates at international Terminal 1, leaving long lines of passengers who had already checked in to wait for further instruction.

The closures came as Hong Kong police said at a daily briefing that officers fired 58 rounds of tear gas and seven rounds of rubber bullets as violence escalated Saturday, moves that helped fuel protester anger.

Protests Spread to Departures Hall (3:32 p.m.)

Hundreds of black-shirted protesters spread to the airport’s departures area, bringing passenger check-ins to a crawl. They sat on the floor and blocked the route to the terminal’s north departure gates as they chanted “Shame on Hong Kong police.” A trickle of passengers were still getting through, but others remained in a long line, some sitting warily with their luggage carts. The crew channel was closed off. As the crowd of protesters shifted, the arrivals hall largely emptied out.

“They shoot press, they shoot first aid, they are HK police,” one protester’s sign read.

Plans for Sunday March Detailed (1:19 p.m.)

The Civil Human Rights Front, the group that organized three historically large marches against the extradition bill in June and July, detailed plans to hold a similar public procession at 3 p.m. Sunday. The group’s challenge will be maintaining the largely peaceful atmosphere of the earlier events as some protests turn to violence and the police employ more forceful measures to disperse them. It’s unclear whether CHRF will get sign-off from the police, who have been withholding approval from some marches.

Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo, a prominent participant in CHRF protests, separately called Lam’s contention that she didn’t have authority over the police force “irresponsible.” “It’s very clear right now who is running Hong Kong, and that’s Beijing,” Mo said.

Airport Train Services Cut (12:51 p.m.)

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority announced that trains between downtown and the terminals would depart less frequently after 1 p.m. in a bid to control crowds. The agency said fewer trains were necessary due to reduced flights at the airport. Trains would run at 15-minute intervals instead of the usual 10-minute span, an agency spokesman said.

Travelers Confront Protesters at Airport (11:15 a.m.)

Some travelers whose flights were disrupted by the airport protests confronted demonstrators, including one man speaking the Mandarin Chinese dialect preferred on the mainland, who complained that his trip had been delayed by a day. One protester apologized to the man, explaining that the government wouldn’t listen to their demands. Others shrugged off the delays.

#香港 pic.twitter.com/BguBaLJjIN

— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 12, 2019

Lam: Police Used ‘Lowest Level’ Force (10:14 a.m.)

Lam said police used the “lowest level of force” when asked why they had fired tear gas in residential areas, as she held a regular Q+A session ahead of a meeting of the city’s Executive Council. She urged calm, a refrain in recent weeks as violence between protesters and police worsens and tear gas is regularly deployed in crowded areas across the city.

At one point, she was interrupted by reporters as she sidestepped questions on whether she would resign -- a key protester demand -- and whether she had concrete proposals to ease residents’ fears.

“It would take a very long time to restore Hong Kong,” she said, choking up. “I again call on everyone to set aside prejudice, and be calm to look at the city, our home -- do we really want to push it into the abyss?”

Read more on the potential toll of the unrest on Hong Kong’s economy

Lam Says Hong Kong in Chaos (9:48 a.m.)

After her session began, Lam asked the public whether they wanted to see Hong Kong fall into an abyss and said the city was in a chaotic situation.

The city’s rule of law is being hurt, she said, and non-cooperation events affected the airport and traffic. Lam also said she saw further suffering for the city’s economy, and that dialogue between the two sides could resume after violence stops.

Protesters Call for Return to Airport (9 a.m.)

Some protesters called for a return to the airport at 1 p.m. Tuesday, circulating a flyer online calling for people to gather featuring an airplane and blue sky.

Hong Kong Airlines vowed its support for the city’s government and police and condemned protester violence in a half-page advertisement in pro-Beijing local newspaper Wen Wei Po. It came as state-run Air China Ltd. canceled dozens of scheduled flights to the city on Tuesday, citing issues at the airport in a post to its official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Read more from Monday’s scene at Hong Kong’s airport

Airport Resumes Normal Operation (6:40 a.m.)

The airport was operating normally as of now, a staff at the airport’s customer service hotline said by phone. It is re-scheduling 90 canceled flights from Monday.

It may cancel more flights Tuesday depending on the situation as some protesters remained at the arrival hall. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific has canceled more than 200 flights to and out of Hong Kong Tuesday.

Airport Protesters Largely Depart (1:14 a.m.)

The vast majority of the thousands of protesters who occupied the airport have now left, picking up their posters and tidying up as they departed. After a day of drama, the airport is largely quiet. Now the question will be how many return later in the morning.

Separately, Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times, said on his Weibo account that if the situation in Hong Kong doesn’t improve, he thinks China will intervene. Earlier, the Chinese People’s Armed Police were seen assembling in Shenzhen city ahead of “apparent large-scale exercises,” Global Times reported on its website, citing videos it obtained.

Police Warn Separate Protesting Group (8:21 p.m. Monday)

Officers warned a separate group of protesters to disperse after they gathered outside the police headquarters in the downtown area of Wan Chai.

At one point, a policeman came out to accept a letter from a protester, and both of them shook hands. Still, the crowds continued to linger.

Protesters Depart on Foot (7:06 p.m. Monday)

The crowd at the airport thinned out as large groups of black-shirted protesters left the airport and began walking en masse down Airport Road, a major artery which didn’t have much traffic headed toward the airport. Most people were headed to Tung Chung -- a neighborhood whose metro station leads back to central areas -- according to video feed from local news outlet Apple Daily.

Stranded passengers walking with luggage were also seen on the Apple Daily feed. Amid the exodus, police concluded a marathon hours-long media briefing by saying they had completed road tests of water cannon vehicles that could now be deployed depending on the situation.

Government Warns Protesters to Leave (5:43 p.m. Monday)

A top Hong Kong official urged demonstrators to head home as concerns grew that police would take action to clear the area.

“For the safety of all flights, passengers and people who work in the airport, I urge all the people assembled at the Hong Kong International Airport to leave as soon as possible,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan told reporters.

It was unclear how many flights were impacted, according to Doris Lai, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Airport Authority. The airport said in an earlier statement that it was aiming to restore operations as soon as possible.

Tear Gas Possible at Airport (5:25 p.m. Monday)

Police don’t rule out the possibility of tear gas being deployed at the airport on Monday, deputy police commissioner Tang Ping-keung told reporters gathered at police headquarters in Wan Chai.

He said it will be up to the commander at the scene to decide on the appropriate use of force. Police don’t characterize the current protests as “terrorism” and instead see themselves as dealing with radical “rioters,” said another official at the briefing, Li Kwai-wah, senior superintendent of the police’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau.

Cathay Pacific Flights Canceled (5:24 p.m. Monday)

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Hong Kong’s main airline, said flights departing from the city will be canceled until Tuesday morning, the company said in a travel advisory on its website. Customers should postpone non-essential travel, it said.

Shares of the company tumbled to a 10-year low after the news. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index came off its session high and contracts for all three main U.S. equity indexes erased earlier gains.

Armed Police Gather: Global Times (4:56 p.m. Monday)

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said on its website that its paramilitary People’s Armed Police have been assembling in Shenzhen, a megacity just across the border between Hong Kong and the mainland, ahead of “apparent large-scale exercises.”

“Numerous” armored personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles of the force were seen heading toward Shenzhen over the weekend, it said. The paper, a tabloid run by the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship mouthpiece, cited videos it obtained.

Flights Canceled (4:18 p.m. Monday)

Hong Kong’s Airport Authority announced that all departing flights and arrivals not already en route the city have been canceled for the rest of the day.

Operations “have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” it said in a statement. “The traffic to the airport is very congested, and the car park spaces at all carparks are already full. Members of the public are advised not to come to the airport.”

China says Protesters Show Signs of Terrorism (4:07 p.m.)

China stepped up its rhetoric on Monday, with a key mainland official saying protesters have committed serious crimes and showed signs of “terrorism.”

Hong Kong has come to a “critical juncture” and all people who care about its future should say no to violence, Yang Guang, a spokesman for its Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on Monday.

(Airport Authority corrects to show flights still departing, check-in closed.)

--With assistance from Fion Li, Justin Chin, Sheryl Tian Tong Lee, Iain Marlow, Jacob Gu, Justin Blum, Bill Faries, Jinshan Hong, Shiyin Chen, Annabelle Droulers, Stephen Engle, Dominic Lau, Natalie Lung, Stephen Tan and Will Davies.

To contact the reporters on this story: Annie Lee in Hong Kong at olee42@bloomberg.net;Yvonne Man in Hong Kong at yman9@bloomberg.net;Sebastian Chau in Hong Kong at schau30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, ;Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Karen Leigh

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