In mid-January, Hong Kong introduced a ban on transit passengers, which was initially only supposed to be valid for a month. Since then, this has been extended twice, though there’s finally an end in sight.
Hong Kong’s ban on transit passengers
Up until recently, Hong Kong has taken one of the strictest zero-tolerance approaches toward coronavirus. While many places started that way in early 2020, not many places have maintained that system, since coronavirus isn’t going anywhere. Hong Kong is now dealing with a massive omicron outbreak, leading to the government reversing course a bit.
As you’d expect, all of these restrictions up until now have greatly impacted Hong Kong’s aviation landscape. To give you a sense of the impact, in November 2021 Cathay Pacific carried just 70,047 passengers, representing a 97.3% decrease compared to November 2019. Things have gotten even worse in 2022.
Hong Kong has banned passengers from transiting through Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) if they’re coming from “Group A” destinations, which are designated high-risk countries. This includes a majority of long haul destinations in Cathay Pacific’s network. This was initially only supposed to be valid for one month, but has since been extended twice.
Under these rules, passengers on flights arriving from mainland China and Taiwan can continue to connect to onwards flights globally, while passengers starting their journeys from other destination aren’t able to transit through Hong Kong during that period, with limited exceptions.
Fortunately this policy will be changing as of April 1, 2022. As of that date, it will be possible to once again transit Hong Kong International Airport, assuming you’re traveling on a single ticket. Also as of April 1, Hong Kong will eliminate the flight ban that currently exists for flights from select countries with high infection rates (interestingly all of those countries have significantly lower infection rates than Hong Kong currently has).
Can Cathay Pacific recover?
A while back I posed the question of whether Cathay Pacific will ever be able to recover. The more fundamental question is whether Hong Kong will ever recover as Asia’s global business hub (rather than a business hub for China).
The airline industry has been hit hard by coronavirus, but seriously, the impact of all of this on Cathay Pacific is on a whole different level. It’s good to see Hong Kong finally lift its ban on transit passengers and also lift its ban on flights from certain destinations, but really this just puts Cathay Pacific into the same spot it was in a few months back (which was terrible).
While Hong Kong is easing some travel restrictions and lowering the quarantine for arriving travelers to one week, that’s still not going to meaningfully increase demand for travel to & from Hong Kong.
If anything, Cathay Pacific will most benefit from being able to carry transit passengers to other destinations in Asia that have opened up in recent weeks, as that list keeps growing. And then of course there’s cargo, which is significant for Hong Kong.
In January, Hong Kong banned transit passengers from most countries for a period of a month, intended to curb the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant. Prior to today, this had been extended twice, despite the fact that those measures obviously haven’t worked.
The good news is that this ban will be lifted as of April 1, which is the same date that Hong Kong will eliminate its flight ban from select countries, and also when Hong Kong will reduce its quarantine for arriving travelers. This comes amid a huge coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, with the highest mortality rate we’ve seen anywhere.
All of this is good news for Cathay Pacific, as this puts the airline in a better spot than it is now. However, the airline still faces countless challenges, as the company isn’t much better off than it was a few months ago. I’m curious to see if & when Hong Kong opens up to visitors without quarantine, as the airline can’t significantly recover until that happens.
What do you make of Hong Kong ending its transit passenger ban?