Night at the Mandarin for lucky ones
The controversial decision by Qantas to ground all flights turned into a nightmare for the 1,200 passengers stranded in Hong Kong, and also for the local staff who had to find them accommodation or alternative transport.
The grounding, from Saturday, coincided with peak demand, as students return to school from half-term and holidaymakers head for the Australian summer.
Adding to the pressures, extra business travellers were in town because of the Canton Fair in Guangzhou, which made it even harder to find hotel rooms for marooned Qantas customers.
'Our staff called every hotel in the city,' said Freddy Li, Greater China regional general manager for Qantas. Despite their efforts, 33 passengers missed out on hotel rooms and had to stay the first night on makeshift beds in the ballroom of the Regal Airport Hotel.
On Sunday morning, Li managed to find hotel rooms for 372 passengers, farming them out to 15 hotels across the city, including the Conrad, Mandarin Oriental and W Hotel - all at Qantas' expense.
'The highest room rate was up to HK$5,000 per night,' Li said. 'Still, we just have to live with it because we didn't have any choice.'
W Hotel confirmed that it had Qantas passengers check into 17 rooms, and 15 checked out in the afternoon, presumably to take advantage of the resumption of service by Qantas in the evening.
The Conrad and Mandarin had no comment because they could not disclose client information.
Qantas had 1,763 passengers on its order book for flights on Saturday and Sunday, with 829 showing up at Hong Kong International Airport, Li said. Some 122 passengers chose to switch to other airlines at the expense of Qantas, which had to pay for any price difference, he said.
But with Qantas' Australian flights 94 per cent booked, it was difficult to switch passengers to other airlines such as Cathay Pacific Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines, which were also quite full, Li said.
Australia-bound passengers often needed to pay as much as HK$14,000 one way, or HK$21,000 for a round trip, Li said. Qantas had to make up any difference.
'I slept less than six hours out of the past 48,' Li said.
'It's the worst service disruption at Qantas for 20 years in terms of the extent of passengers affected.'
The number of days the regulator, Fair Work Australia, could potentially suspend strike action for so that talks can take place