Hong Kong Protests Still Affecting Passenger Traffic

Despite the hint of a Hong Kong sector recovery, Singapore Airlines and others continue to endure a static weakness of demand. The East Asian carrier announced today the cancellation of more low-volume flights bound for HKG.

Singapore A380 on taxiway
Airlines serving Hong Kong continue to experience low passenger numbers. Photo: Singapore Airlines.

Taking their toll

Reports Bloomberg, Singapore Airlines admits ongoing protests continue to take their toll of passenger numbers, although not by the degree seen by other airlines. That being said, customer demand for Hong Kong-bound tickets is still at an all-time low, and Singapore and other airlines continue to abandon flights with low turnouts.

The violence enfolded within the marches, which began on March 31st, has discouraged tourists from visiting the city-state. Protests continue to shred Hong Kong’s infrastructure and financial well being. The airport has not escaped the vandalism of the protesters.

But bucking the consensus about HK’s plight, boss of Singapore Goh Choon Phong said the malaise brought about by the anti-government protests was not worsening.

While it’s too early to say that travel demand to Hong Kong is recovering, it has somewhat stabilized,” he told Bloomberg.

Phong also said the unrest had caused only a “minor dent” in the financial performance of his airline. That admission of fortune stands in stark contrast with the plight of Qantas. The Australian giant attributes over $17 million to the troubles.

The impact is probably stronger on the leisure side,” Phong added, “because if you are going to Hong Kong for leisure you may actually look at alternatives.”

We have contacted Singapore Air but have not yet received a reply.

Singapore B777 take-off
Leisure market and its carriers crippled by the unrest. Photo: Singapore Airlines.

Other airlines hit

The conflict between protesters and the Chinese government has discouraged tourism and injured the economy. According to Forbes, arrivals at HKG are down 40% compared to this time last year; airline bookings have fallen 10%.

Qantas was one of the hardest-hit carriers, and it continues to struggle. We reported at the end of last month on the carrier’s revealing a $25 million profit loss due to the civil unrest. It was also forced to downgrade several of its types on HKG routes, cutting overall capacity by 7%.

Lack of custom has caused other airlines to either cancel or redistribute flight manifests too. In August, United Airlines suspended non-stop flights between Chicago and Hong Kong. Most recently the US carrier downgraded its Boeing 777-300 to a -200 on transpacific routes.

Earlier this month Hong Kong Airlines announced the cancellation of its route between Hong Kong and LAX. In tandem, Virgin Australia announced the suspension of Melbourne to HKG.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific is arguably the worst affected by the unrest. Writes Forbes the carrier posted a 7.2% drop in its passenger load factor compared to the same time last year. Perhaps more crippling is the slump in Cathay’s inbound passenger traffic: down 38% compared to 2018.

Cathay jet in flight over HK
Cathay Pacific rocked more than most by the South East Asian storm. Photo: Cathay

Optimistic Recovery

On the face of it, the future is bleak for carriers still serving HKG. But there is a whiff of hope in the air. There may be no cessation of the violence but it has not worsened, and the unrest seen of recent months cannot continue indefinitely.

United appears the most optimistic. We reported at the end of last month of the airline’s cautious hope for an end to the troubles. United’s CEO Oscar Munoz revealing that demand was slowly returning to pre-demo volume.

For others more critically injured by the unrest, it may only be a matter of time before things return to normal.