Hong Kong must do more over errant airlines
The cancellations by Hong Kong Express are a lesson for the government, which should study more sanctions and accountability options in such cases
Budget airline passengers get what they pay for – a no-frills service, add-on charges, red-eye flight schedules and sometimes even delays. While all these are somehow to be expected for tickets sold at bargain prices, getting to one’s destination in a reasonable time frame remains a legitimate expectation.
Outrage and censure are therefore understandable when Hong Kong Express abruptly cancelled at least 18 flights to Japan and South Korea this week, one of the prime travel seasons in the region. Senior management at the carrier only issued a public apology on Sunday following emergency talks with top government officials, two days after the news had caused panic and chaos among thousands of travellers.
It has to be asked why the cancellations only came to light late last week when an internal dispute in August resulted in an exodus of three key safety trainers and affected the number of qualified crew and pilots available for duty. The shortage was said to be exacerbated by staff maternity leave, illness and resignations. The government was only alerted to the cancellation on Thursday, a day ahead of a public announcement. Maintaining a pool of standby staff to cover unexpected manpower issues is fundamental to airline operations. It raises serious questions when Hong Kong Express fails to deliver what is expected of an airline. The staffing issues do not excuse the management of the responsibility for the debacle. Apology aside, better efforts are needed to prevent a recurrence.
The lesson is also for the government. Carriers that fail to meet certain requirements may have their air transport licences revoked. But just like the affected customers, officials in charge of aviation and commerce were also caught off guard by the sudden cancellations. Apart from summoning airline executives to file reports and explain themselves in front of the media, the government should study more sanctions and accountability options. This is especially important as budget airlines become increasingly popular among travellers in Hong Kong and the world over. At stake is the city’s reputation as an international aviation hub.