A Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Hong Kong turned around mid-flight yesterday and returned to Doha via Muscat. It appears the decision to turn around was made in response to the worsening situation at Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport as anti-government protests ramp up and other airlines start cancelling their flights into the city.
One Mile At A Time is reporting that QR816 departed Doha yesterday, Monday, August 12th, for its scheduled flight to Hong Kong. Over Bangladesh, approximately midway through the flight, the decision was made to go back to Doha. It seems the 777-300ER did not have enough fuel to make it all the way back, so diverted into Muscat for refuelling. Passengers spent approximately one hour there before making the final, short leg flight back to Doha. The plane landed some 12 hours after it left.
Qatar Airways has since cancelled its scheduled services into Hong Kong through to August 15th.
The situation worsens at Hong Kong’s Airport
Yesterday, Monday, August 19, Hong Kong International Airport grounded all departing flights as protesters occupied the airport. CNN reports that the airport was described as chaotic as thousands of passengers were left stranded.
CNN suggests the protesters have been choosing the airport as a demonstration venue because it was viewed as a safe space with thousands of international travellers moving through the site at any one time. It was not expected that local police would get too brutal under the gaze of so many outsiders. Nonetheless, rumours persisted yesterday that local riot police would take action against the protesters at the airport.
The mainland Chinese Government, having already exerted pressure on local carrier Cathay Pacific, upped its rhetoric against the protests, saying it showed “signs of terrorism.”
Hong Kong Airport is scheduled to re-open at 06:00 local time today, Tuesday 13th August, but further delays and cancellations are expected.
Many airlines are suspending their Hong Kong services
As the uncertainty continues, Qatar is not the only airline suspending its services to Hong Kong.
British Airways noted on its website that its two flights to Hong Kong yesterday were “affected by the disruption” and offered passengers no penalty rebooking or refunds.
On August 9th, Singapore Airlines put out an advisory saying only passengers with a current valid travel document will be allowed near their check-in counters at Hong Kong.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that American Airlines cancelled its flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Monday, Lufthansa cancelled its flights from Munich and Frankfurt, and a further 241 flights are cancelled today.
Included in this is Qantas which has cancelled its Hong Kong flights on Tuesday from Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
Cathay Pacific is hit the hardest
Worst affected is Cathay Pacific. It is advising passengers to defer non-essential travel to Hong Kong. Yesterday evening it was advising its passengers not to go to the airport. This morning it is asking passengers to check the flight status with the airline before heading out.
Its latest advisory, released at 06:00 local time, says it will be operating a limited number of connecting flights for passengers in transit at the airport. Cathay Pacific’s website lists dozens of inbound and outbound flights cancelled on Tuesday, including regional and long haul flights.
Commentators are calling the long-running protests in Hong Kong the biggest crisis to hit the city since it was handed over to the Chinese over 20 years ago. The Qatar passengers yesterday may have been inconvenienced, but it was possibly the lesser of two evils. Being stuck for a day or two in transit amongst the chaotic confusion and crowds at Hong Kong airport wouldn’t be much fun at all.
Simple Flying reached out to Qatar Airways for a comment about their flight, but they did not respond prior to publication