Emirates has suspended transit services between Dubai and Hong Kong from July 2 to 15 as it rushes to introduce new checks in order to avoid a repeat of an incident that left 11 transit passengers stuck at Hong Kong International Airport. The passengers, who intended to travel onto mainland China, had been given permission to board the Emirates flight to Hong Kong last month despite a ban on passengers transiting through Hong Kong to get to the mainland.
The 11 passengers had been on the same flight as 26 other passengers who all tested positive for COVID-19 after their arrival in Hong Kong. They spent five days stuck in the transit zone at Hong Kong International Airport before being transferred to a quarantine facility as they didn’t have permission to enter Hong Kong.
Now that the quarantine period is over and the passengers have all tested negative for COVID-19, Emirates will have to pick up the cost of returning them from where they started their journeys. It’s still not clear how they were cleared to travel in the first place with travel restrictions well publicised.
Numerous other passengers have been stuck at Hong Kong airport including a Vietnamese passenger who arrived from Canada who has allegedly been living in the transit for three months after his home country closed its borders.
The fate of these stranded passengers has forced the Hong Kong airport authority to introduce new rules to punish airlines that fly ineligible passengers to the city. If an airline sends a “mishandled” passenger to Hong Kong, all subsequent flights from the same airline will be met by immigration officers at the gate and passengers subjected to passport check before they are allowed to even get off the plane.
In the case of a “serious violation”, transit services for the same flight number may be suspended, while the airline responsible will have to bear all the costs arising from the mishandling – which could include any quarantine costs. The rules came into effect on Wednesday.
“We are aware of the updated transfer/transit service arrangements at the Hong Kong International Airport and are complying with all relevant regulations to prevent similar incidents from occurring in future,” a spokesperson for Emirates was quoted as saying by the SCMP.
“The passengers will return to Dubai after quarantine has been completed,” the statement from the Gulf carrier included.
Hong Kong resumed transit services in June but airlines should only allow passengers to board a flight at their point of origin if they know there is no obvious restriction on them entering their final destination. Passport and visa checks are common practice for many airlines but with restrictions changing so quickly and with little notice there has been an increase in mishandled passengers over the last few months.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.