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Hong Kong International Airport

Faster security screening soon at Hong Kong airport, but passengers may bear cost of perk

New dedicated channel for premium customers to be launched in September, with service also open to travellers with special needs and reduced mobility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 July, 2017, 11:27pm

Speedy security screening at Hong Kong’s airport is about to get even faster, but this will come with higher costs – likely to be borne by airlines, which will pass them onto passengers.

Hong Kong International Airport is set to unveil a dedicated security channel for premium travellers departing the city, with the service also open to those with special needs and reduced mobility, those who are pregnant, the elderly and adults with infants, according to the Airport Authority, which operates the airport.

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Industry sources have told the South China Morning Post that the airport will charge airlines HK$20 for just the premium passengers using the so-called “fast track” security service, to be officially launched in September.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Airlines will also take part in a test run of the new facilities later this month. The three airlines said they welcomed “any initiative” that boosted the experience of passengers.

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But a number of major international airlines told the Post they were not interested in signing up for the new service, noting that it did not include speedy immigration checks.

One prominent carrier felt it was being pressured to sign up, while another criticised the lack of details about the facility and the benefits for airlines.

Passengers currently pay a HK$45 security charge, and in the 2016 to 2017 financial year, 99 per cent of them queued for 4.5 minutes or less, according to the Airport Authority.

One major international airline based in the regions of Europe, Middle East and Africa welcomed the new fast-track security facility. “We try to standardise and have the same service around the world, including on the ground, but we don’t have that in Hong Kong, yet security is already very fast.”

But it also noted: “Every cost that comes on top of the ticket price for us, in the end, [will have to be charged to] the customer.”

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Another airline from the region viewed the initiative with some cynicism, arguing that its introduction would mean an “additional source of revenue” for the airport which generated a profit of HK$8.3 billion last year.

An Airport Authority source said earnings from the fee paid by airlines for premium travellers using the fast-track security service would be able to cover the cost of allowing access to non-premium passengers, such as senior citizens, and those who have disabilities or are pregnant.

For foreign carriers with more than one flight a day, the extra costs would range between HK$1 million and HK$3 million a year. The figure may be higher for local airlines.

An Asian airline summed up the service as “a good customer service gesture with a good promotional message”, but it was uncertain about how much faster the service will be in reality.

The local airline manager explained that Hong Kong and many modern and efficient airports around the world processed passengers very fast without any priority queue.

According to a Post calculation, Cathay Pacific would be absorbing millions of dollars in higher charges if it signs up for the airport’s new service. This would be an unwelcome addition after losing HK$575 million last year, which led to the company cutting 600 jobs.

But the airline would be able to offer a more premium airport experience, potentially being one of only a handful of carriers paying for the service.

A source at Cathay Pacific suggested that it would enforce strict limits on customer access to this service.

The Airport Authority added that it would also limit the number of eligible users per hour, as longer queues would defeat the service’s intended purpose to screen passengers at a faster speed.

Airlines were promised that staff levels in the normal security screen area would not be affected, but doubts have grown.

Avseco, the airport’s security operator, said it would review its staffing figures once the scheme comes into operation.

However, even with the upcoming introduction of the fast track initiative, other stringent security measures – detailed checks on electronic devices for US-bound flights, for example – which have still not been mapped out may create longer queues at the airport.