Numerous passengers have found themselves stuck in transit at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) amid COVID-19 travel restrictions. These passengers, arriving from Dubai, the United Kingdom, and Canada – have been living in limbo for up to three months.
HKIA had suspended its transit operations on March 25th and only resumed them earlier this month. However, Mainland China still does not accept transit passengers.
According to the South China Morning Post, the travelers in question include 11 Emirates passengers who flew into Hong Kong from Dubai, intending to travel to Mainland China. These passengers arrived on June 21st and stayed in transit for five days.
Another is a mainlander who flew in via British Airways. As of today, she has been in the city-state’s transit hub for 17 days.
The traveler most affected has been living in HKIA for three months. The Cathay Pacific passenger landed in Hong Kong in March, intending to head to Vietnam. When he embarked the plane from Canada, there were no restrictions in place in HKIA. However, Vietnam had closed its border to international flights, leaving him stranded. The Vietnamese passenger refuses to head back to Canada and is waiting on the next available flight to Vietnam.
Isolation facilities are now available in the airport’s transit area to limit contact with the airport staff.
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New penalties for airlines
As it seems, airlines wrongly allowed these travelers to board planes heading to destinations that were under travel bans due to the corona-crisis.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Airport Authority (AA) decided to introduce penalties for airlines that bring in transit passengers who are unable to travel to their destination due to restrictions. The strict measures will begin today, July 1st.
The AA has explained that airlines will be fully responsible for such passenger mishandling cases, and must shoulder any costs concerned. Additionally, airlines must send these passengers “without valid boarding passes back to the port of origin immediately.”
Carriers may even be banned from transiting passengers at HKIA. The authority added,
“If an airline brings transit/transfer passenger to HKIA whose entry is not accepted by the authorities of their destinations, passengers of the subsequent flights of the same flight number will have to undergo passport and boarding pass checks before disembarkation. In case of a serious violation, the transit/transfer service at Hong Kong for the flight of same flight number may be suspended.”
What happened to the abandoned passengers?
Relevant government organizations such as the Civil Aviation Department, Department of Health, and Immigration Department, have been informed of the issue.
The Centre for Health Protection advised that the Emirates passengers be put in quarantine – as they may pose health risks. These 11 travelers flew from Dubai with Emirates. However, 26 passengers on board the same Emirates flight tested positive for the virus.
As of yesterday, however, all the stranded passengers in HKIA tested negative for the virus, SCMP reports. Despite that, the Emirates passengers have not gone through the 14-day incubation period for the virus, and 10 of them are now at a government quarantine camp. The remaining passenger decided to fly back to Dubai last Wednesday.
The Standard reports that these 10 passengers will be repatriated to Dubai after completing quarantine.
The other marooned travelers continue to spend their days in HKIA.
Passengers stranded elsewhere
The marooned passengers in HKIA share the same plight as many others globally.
On April 17th, a Russian student, Mikhail Novosyelov, traveled to Germany in hopes of starting his semester abroad at Berlin’s Humboldt University. However, as luck may have it, the German immigration agents restricted him from entering the country due to EU travel restrictions. This kicked off Novosyelov’s stay in transit.
When Simple Flying reported on the story, Novosyelov had been staying in Frankfurt am Main Airport for over a month. At the time of publication, Novosyelov believed the agents would change their minds. He was also in the process of obtaining an attorney. Currently, there have been no updates on the case.
According to Channel News Asia, more than 200 Colombians have been forced to live in Brazil’s São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport. They are desperately waiting for a chance to return home – although Colombia will only reopen international flights on or after August 31st. By the end of May, some passengers had already been at the airport for over two weeks.
Repatriation flights are costly, and most of the stranded travelers are unable to afford them.
Do you think the authorities handled the situation well? Have you heard of similar incidents of stranded passengers due to COVID-19 travel restrictions? Let us know in the comments.