Cathay Pacific the only airline for now to ban downtown check-in for US-bound travellers
Four other airlines – Singapore, United, American and Delta – say travellers can still check baggage at Hong Kong or Kowloon stations but should arrive at airport three hours before take-off to complete stricter screening
Cathay Pacific will be the only airline to stop United States-bound travellers from checking in their baggage at the Hong Kong or Kowloon train stations from Thursday, to comply with Washington’s insistence on stricter airport screening in the face of evolving terror threats.
Four other carriers that fly from the city to the US – Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines – said they would continue to provide the downtown service for now.
But, along with the city’s flagship carrier, they urged passengers to arrive at Hong Kong International Airport three hours before their flight to complete new screening measures in place.
The US announced in June that airlines had 120 days to comply with enhanced passenger screening requirements or face a ban on large electronic devices, such as laptops, in the aircraft cabin.
Singapore Airlines on Wednesday said passengers “may” have their electronic devices inspected, on top of a security interview about their trip at check-in or before boarding.
Cathay operates 14 flights to the US each day and is the most affected by the new regulations. On top of losing the downtown check-in service, its US-bound passengers will no longer be able to use the self-service bag drop at the airport, and must only use Aisle B there to check in. They should also expect to face a short security interview on their trip and what they intend to do in the country. Only flight 888 to New York via Vancouver will not be affected.
On Wednesday, Cathay acknowledged the inconvenience to passengers but explained that it would not be possible to comply with the screening rules at the Hong Kong or Kowloon stations because of the volume of travellers to the US.
It stressed that checking in at the airport would be “as smooth as possible” even with the additional security measures, as it had sufficient staff on hand to process passengers.
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Gerry Doyle, a Cathay customer who travels frequently to the US, tweeted: “Excellent – I was hoping for more pointless security measures to make travel harder in time for the holidays, and this delivers.”
Industry players agreed, with a Middle East airline manager saying the measures were “invasive”, while an Asian airline boss suggested travellers could be put off visiting the US.
The restrictions are part of US President Donald Trump’s efforts to shore up aviation security. In March, his administration placed restrictions on large electronic devices on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa.
In June, it backed down from widening the restrictions to a blanket ban on all large devices in aircraft cabins, but told carriers to enforce enhanced passenger screening. Some measures already in place include boarding gate testing for explosives.
Britain imposed a similar ban for six countries in March, but did not follow suit with the enhanced anti-terror measures at airports.
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Washington said previously that 325,000 travellers on 2,100 international flights from 280 airports in 105 countries would be affected.
In a survey by global airline trade body the International Air Transport Association released on Tuesday, 47 per cent of more than 10,000 respondents said they were dissatisfied with the different security procedures across airports.