Asian airlines slash flights to Hong Kong as unrest escalates

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Several Asian airlines have cut flights to Hong Kong for the coming weeks, an industry scheduling publication showed, as anti-government protests in the city grow increasingly violent and disrupt daily life.

Protesters clash with police at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Routes Online said the latest schedules showed cancellations from PT Garuda Indonesia (Persero) Tbk, India’s SpiceJet Ltd, Malaysia’s AirAsia Group Bhd, South Korea’s JejuAir Co Ltd and Jin Air Co Ltd and the Philippines’ PAL Holdings Inc and Cebu Air Inc.

The cuts come as Hong Kong police on Monday fired tear gas at protesters trying to escape a besieged university, while others armed with petrol bombs awaited an expected operation to oust them.

The unrest, raging for almost six months, and an escalating Sino-U.S. trade war has pushed the Asian financial hub into recession for the first time in a decade.

On Sunday, Airport Authority Hong Kong reported declines in October of 13% in passengers and 6.1% in the number of inbound and outbound flights - the steepest falls since the unrest began. It said a growing proportion of travelers were using Hong Kong as a transit point rather than a destination.

On Monday, Routes Online showed Garuda has reduced weekly flights to Hong Kong to four from 21 through mid-December, SpiceJet has suspended its Mumbai-Hong Kong route through Jan. 15 and AirAsia has cut flights from Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu in December and January.

As of November, Garuda Indonesia adjusted its flight frequency from Jakarta to Hong Kong from 14 flights to two flights per week, and from Denpasar to Hong Kong from seven to two flights, Ikhsan Rosan, a spokesman for the company said in a statement.

“The change is an effort to adjust with the market demand,” he said, adding that Garuda will monitor market needs, especially for Christmas and New Year.

AirAsia said passenger numbers have been lower over the past few months and it is adjusting capacity accordingly. SpiceJet did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for PAL Holdings’ Philippine Airlines said the carrier was using smaller planes than usual for Hong Kong as passengers were postponing travel due to safety concerns. It has also cut daily flights from Manila to four from five, she said.

A spokeswoman for Cebu Air’s Cebu Pacific said the budget carrier has cut flights from Cebu through December and Clark through January. However, the airline launched its Puerto Princesa-Hong Kong route on Sunday as scheduled, she said.

A Jeju Air spokesman said the low-cost carrier has reduced daily flights from Seoul to Hong Kong to one from two through Dec. 17. A spokesman for rival Jin Air said the budget airline had suspended Seoul-Hong Kong flights through Dec. 24.

Last week, Hong Kong’s biggest carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, said its business outlook was “challenging and uncertain” and that it has cut capacity and delayed four plane deliveries.

Major mainland Chinese carriers also reported double-digit declines in demand on so-called regional routes in September and October amid protests in Hong Kong and travel restrictions to Taiwan, monthly traffic reports showed.

Routes Online on Monday said several Chinese carriers, including Air China Ltd, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd and China Southern Airlines Co Ltd had filed for fresh capacity reductions to Hong Kong since late October.

China Eastern declined to comment. Air China and China Southern did not respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Additional reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Heekyong Yang in Seoul and Jessica Damiana in Jakarta; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Christian Schmollinger