In the wake of the Hong Kong airport shutdown this week, travelers may be wondering what actions they can take if they find themselves stranded. These ideas could help.
As Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest flight hubs, shut down for a second day in a row on Tuesday due to massive demonstrations, countless travelers were left high and dry.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled due to the protests, according to news reports, resulting in travel mayhem for passengers who were trying to fly into, out of, or through Hong Kong airport.
“I had not budgeted for this sort of extensive delay and Hong Kong is not a cheap city by any means,” said DaFene Brown, who had been due to fly home to Atlanta, Georgia, via Shanghai on Monday night when his flight was cancelled.
His airline rescheduled the flight for Wednesday and Brown said he hoped he had enough money to last until he departs.
“I am a bit nervous about how long the protests will last and if the airlines will have any more delays,” he said.
The protests began more than two months ago after Hong Kong introduced a bill that would have allowed China to extradite people accused of crimes. They have since expanded into calls for democratic reforms and the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.
After weeks of neighborhood confrontations with police, the protesters’ decision this week to take their movement to the airport has caused a more direct impact on its economy, business travel, and tourism.
The International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, said “the cancellation of flights will be felt in markets well beyond Hong Kong.”
Check with your airline
In light of any kind of an aviation disruption on the scale of the one at the Hong Kong airport, airlines will often waive flight change and cancellation fees in order to encourage travelers to proactively alter their plans. Doing so will help alleviate some of the inevitable backlog of customers who will need to be rebooked or refunded.
Contact your hotel, tour operator, or cruise line
Similar to the airlines, most reputable hotels and travel companies will allow travelers to rebook (at no cost to the traveler) due to large-scale events beyond their control. Most of the time, these rebooking policies are as much an attempt to maintain a percentage of business as they are an opportunity to simply do right by the customer.
Events such as the massive protests in Hong Kong tend to scare away both business and leisure travelers who either don’t want to get mixed up in an uncertain situation or are worried that the event will linger on and potentially cause further travel disruptions. Consequently, a percentage of travelers with upcoming trips to the impacted destination will choose to either cancel their trip entirely, book a trip elsewhere, or at least hold off on the destination in question until a later date. What results is a rapid and often painful decline in travel to the impacted locale.
In an effort to salvage whatever business they can, travel companies typically roll out generous rebooking policies.
Travel insurance can help, to a degree
It is currently too late to buy travel insurance for this week's Hong Kong airport protests—any incidents related to the protests will no longer be covered, according to travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth.
Nevertheless, events such as the demonstrations in Hong Kong serve as a reminder about the potential benefits of buying travel insurance well in advance of a trip. Travelers who purchased a policy prior to the protests could be covered by several possible benefits. For instance, many policies cover flight delays that exceed three hours. Some policies will refund travelers for portions of their missed trip if cancelled flights caused them to miss half or more of their trip. And some policies will provide coverage to travelers who miss a cruise or tour because of an extreme flight delay.
Those with upcoming trips to Hong Kong would likely be able to cancel their trip and be reimbursed if they purchased “cancel for any reason” coverage—an optional upgrade that can often be added to travel insurance policies, for a price. It typically increases the cost of travel insurance by about 40 percent, according to Squaremouth.
But according to Kate Doty, managing director of Geographic Expeditions and an AFAR travel advisory committee member, it’s well worth the upgrade. Geographic Expeditions, which doesn’t have many travelers in Asia right now given that August is not high season in the destination (late fall, Chinese New Year, and early spring are more popular times for travel there, she said), recommends that all of its travelers consider trip cancellation insurance.
Check with your credit card company
Many credit cards provide trip insurance for delayed or cancelled flights that were booked using that card. This can include coverage of hotel reservations when flights are severely delayed or cancelled and compensation for lost luggage. Every card’s protection plan is different, so be sure to read the fine print; cards like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve or the Delta American Express Platinum card offer decent coverage for those who can provide ample proof of their delayed flight with relevant receipts.
How travel advisors can assist
For people who are in a destination away from home when situations such as protests or civil unrest arise, working with a travel advisor or travel company that has reliable contacts on the ground is critical, according to William Kiburz, vice president of Coronet Travel and an AFAR travel advisory committee member. He noted that smaller, more intimate operations can be better at keeping track of and taking care of displaced clients than larger travel companies working with numerous impacted travelers.
“We have a different person in each country who specializes in that country and is located in that country,” said Kiburz.
For Kiburz, the recipe to success in times of crisis is simple: Have a trusted assistant or travel advisor; make sure you have a travel advisor’s and/or ground operator’s cell phone number programmed into your phone so you can reach out when you need to; and yes, have some travel insurance.
Use technology to multitask
In the case of major flight delays or cancellations, there are likely going to be some epic lines of people waiting to speak with airline agents at the airport. While in line, use your mobile device to get on social media and reach out to your airline’s Twitter or Facebook team. You can also get online to search for alternate flights. Jump on the phone to try to speak to an agent that way; you may reach someone who may be able to assist you faster than the overwhelmed agents at the airport.
Hit the lounge
If you have elite status with your airline, head to the airport lounge to wait out delayed and cancelled flights in comfort. Some travel credit cards, like Chase’s Sapphire Reserve, also offer cardholders a Priority Pass Select membership that grants access to more than 1,200 airport lounges around the world. In addition to providing a more comfortable place to wait for your delayed or rescheduled flight, airport lounges can be a better place to deal with travel dilemmas: Inside the lounges, airport employees and agents might have more time and flexibility to assist with rebooking flights because, in theory, there are fewer customers waiting to be helped. For fliers without elite status, check to see if there is an option to buy a daily pass at the lounge entrance.
Of course, lounge access won’t help too much if the delays or cancellations require an overnight stay or go on for more than a day, as in the case at the Hong Kong airport. But when you’re stuck, a chance for a slightly more comfortable chair, better service, and even just better snacks, can make all the difference.
The Associated Press contributed reporting. Additional reporting provided by Ramsey Qubein.