China's announcement that Hong Kong people living overseas have 18 months in which to return after the handover to retain their permanent residence has averted a much-feared rush back to the territory before June 30. But airlines are still reporting a mini-rush ahead of the handover simply because some former Hong Kong people and tourists are keen to be in the territory to witness the historic occasion. Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Ansett Australia, the three airlines which fly direct to Hong Kong from Australia, said flights to Hong Kong in the week before the handover and back to Australia the week after were virtually full. But those willing to be wait-listed and flexible with their dates still had a slim chance of a seat. Cathay Pacific public affairs manager Ken Morton said: 'You would be pushed to get a seat, but for the month of June generally things have eased a lot now the requirement for Hong Kong residents to be in Hong Kong on July 1 no longer applies.' An Ansett representative said: 'We have some good seats still available in the lead-up to the handover but they are selling quickly and it will be tight trying to get out of Hong Kong.' The Sydney office spokesman for the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) says the territory still has rooms available, but most of those in the hotels Australian airlines normally use to house package travellers are full. High- and low-tariff hotels are also virtually full, but Australians prepared to try booking at one of the many medium-tariff hotels should eventually find one, HKTA spokesman Mike Parker-Brown said. Airlines are generally offering their normal Hong Kong packages, with fares at the usual rate for the 'shoulder' period, but some hotels are imposing a surcharge. Some travel agents have offered special handover packages, which sold out quickly. STA Travel promotions manager Danielle Spencer said the packages being offered by the organisation, which specialise in student and backpacker travel, included accommodation at the YMCA. They were advertised in February and were now all sold, said Ms Spencer. In Canada, the president of Silkway Travel (Canada), Paulus Ng, speaking from Vancouver, said it was still possible to get round-trip economy tickets to Hong Kong, except for the days around June 30 itself: 'You can occasionally get them on June 25, 26 and 27, if you're persistent, but 28 and 29 are hopeless.' The position in Toronto is equally tight. Travel agents said tickets for Hong Kong flights were almost fully booked. From London, flights on Cathay Pacific and the other direct carriers are all but full, especially for the last few days before the handover, and what are known as 'bucket shop' discount tickets are no longer available at some outlets, and at higher prices in others. But you can still get to Hong Kong in time for the handover with KLM, flying from Amsterdam, or Lufthansa from Frankfurt, for not much more than $7,200.