Flights from Britain to Hong Kong were recently halted, leaving travellers stranded. Photo: Getty Images
Kate Whitehead
Kate Whitehead

Hong Kong quarantine flip-flop, UK flight ban leave travellers high and dry – and cost some a fortune

  • The quarantine time for travellers to Hong Kong from the UK was suddenly changed from one week to three – then came a total ban
  • Not a problem if you’re rich enough, but for economy travellers it’s an expensive headache

British Airways’ hotline was busy the other week. After an hour on hold, the cheery voice saying “we value your call” every 20 seconds was starting to sound a little insincere. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one wanting to cancel my flight after the Hong Kong government flip-flopped from a proposed one-week quarantine to three weeks for those returning from Britain.

Once you’ve invested an hour, you don’t want to give up. Besides, BA won’t let you cancel by email – you have to call your local agent. I doubled my chances and called from a landline as well as my mobile. Having both on speakerphone, bleating that hollow message, was driving me towards the edge, so when my “local agent” – in New Delhi, India – finally picked up after two-and-a-half hours, I was both grateful and terrified I might accidentally get cut off.

Meanwhile, vaccinated friends already in Britain who’d been working out which partner would quarantine with the unvaccinated kids were suddenly scrambling to extend their quarantine hotel bookings and stressing about the cost. And then, BAM! All flights from the country were banned, heralding a whole new set of problems and travel chaos.

If you’ve got buckets of money, adding a few more weeks onto a trip is a mostly a logistical challenge – still stressful and inconvenient, but something that might even be turned into an adventure. But for those of us who aren’t cashed up, these sudden changes can be crippling, and mean running up credit card bills and taking out loans.

British Airways has insisted passengers cancel their flights by phone. Photo: Getty Images

I have friends returning to Hong Kong from Britain via Spain, France, Dubai and Finland. For the most part, they were not on what we think of as a “holiday”; these were duty visits to see family – often elderly parents – something I’d also been hoping to do. And there are the Hong Kong students who didn’t manage to get a seat on one of the last flights out who are now stranded for the summer in Britain and being palmed off on friends and friends of friends.

No one travels purely for pleasure in a pandemic, not unless you’ve got the funds to cover the inevitable escalations in costs and unexpected time off work. For many of us, it would be easier to leave Hong Kong and emigrate (with all that involves, from filing your final tax return to packing up your home) than go on holiday.