It was 9pm on June 20, and the departure of Hong Kong Airlines Flight HX234 from Hong Kong Airport to Shanghai was in jeopardy. The air traffic control at Pudong reported bad weather and ordered the plane to delay take-off.
So the plane waited for permission to depart while still idling at its original position next to the passenger terminal. For hours. At 2am, passengers began to request to leave the plane, but it wasn’t until 3am when the captain announced the flight would be cancelled, a full six hours after the original departure time of 9pm.
At this time, Hong Kong Airlines offered its 276 passengers HK$200 in compensation, dinner and breakfast vouchers, along with a flight to Shanghai later. Around 130 of the already boarded passengers accepted this offer, and disembarked the plane. However, about 70 passengers rejected the terms, and refused to leave.
The People’s Daily reported that the passengers had nothing to eat or drink for the entire 16 hours, during which the air conditioning was reported to have been turned off. The paper said the airline staff also left the plane during the passengers’ protest.
This report refers to the passengers as being “detained; while the passengers were not allowed to leave the flight before it was cancelled at 3am, the passengers refused to leave the plane after 3am once the flight was cancelled.
On the other hand, the airline states that water was provided to passengers throughout the incident, during which time the air conditioning was on, reports the Hong Kong Standard.
But it gets uglier. Passenger Mr Hua said the protesters were not seeking compensation, but rather wanted to complain about how they were being treated. But airline staff have a different story.
Stewardess Candy Tong made a post on Instagram in which she affirmed that airline staff gave food and drink to the passengers. Furthermore, Tong stated that during the delay, airline staff had lent passengers their own personal cell phone chargers. Passengers used their recharged batteries to take pictures of the flight attendants.
The following photograph was posted to Facebook with the text, “#1320 Thanks for telling me there is no food and drinks in HX 234.”
The whole standoff finally came to an end at 3pm on the 21st — after passengers had stayed on the flight for a full 18 hours — when Hong Kong Airlines decided to increase compensation to HK$800 per passenger.
Hong Kong Airlines has experienced similar protests by mainland passengers before. Two months ago, 31 passengers refused to leave a flight leaving Bali. Back in 2011, 21 passengers refused to leave a Hong Kong Airlines flight after a nine-hour delay in Singapore. Seventeen passengers refused to leave a flight departing from Shanghai in 2012 after an 18-hour weather delay.
A “language strike” by Hong Kong Airlines flight attendants is now planned for July 1 in which staff will refrain from speaking Putonghua. July 1 is also the annual day of protest in Hong Kong, which also coincides with its handover of sovereignty back to Mainland China.