Willie Walsh: Hong Kong Severely Hindered By Quarantine Rules

Cathay Pacific continues to struggle as arriving passengers are still required to quarantine for three days.

Credit: Rob Finlayson

IATA Director General Willie Walsh warned that ongoing travel restrictions in Hong Kong (HKG) will keep airlines away from the city and make it difficult for Cathay Pacific to rebuild its global network.

Hong Kong still requires arriving passengers to quarantine at a designated hotel for three days, regardless of COVID-19 test results. “It is disappointing to see the restrictions continue,” Walsh told reporters during a Sept. 7 briefing. 

Cathay recently reported that its July passenger traffic, even with modest improvements year-over-year, was 93.3% down from July 2019. The Hong Kong government said Sept. 7 that no decisions have been made on changing quarantine rules that continue to severely dampen air traffic demand to/from HKG.

“Hong Kong was always an important market and a critical hub in the region,” Walsh said. “I think a lot of that activity has now gone to other hubs where restrictions don't apply. It will take some time for Hong Kong to recover. It will very much depend on the rate at which Cathay Pacific, in particular, rebuilds its network.”

Walsh said global airlines are likely to largely avoid HKG for the foreseeable future, noting that it is impossible for carriers to do any planning regarding Hong Kong with so much uncertainty around travel restrictions. 

“A lot of airlines will not bring any capacity to the market until they see clear evidence that the restrictions are being removed,” Walsh said. “More importantly, airlines need to be convinced that the restrictions are being removed and will not be reintroduced. Because that's what really is damaging to airline demand–when there's uncertainty in a market about whether the restrictions will be reintroduced.”

Cathay said many of the flights coming to Hong Kong are carrying students arriving from Europe. Since the students typically plan to stay for longer periods, they are more willing to quarantine for three days upon arrival than tourists or business passengers.

Earlier this year, Walsh told Aviation Week Network editors that Singapore (SIN) and major Middle East airports would likely absorb hub traffic that previously went through HKG.