Stranded in Japan as typhoon and earthquake strike days apart, Hongkongers scramble to find flights home
Airlines announce additional flights and bigger planes as travellers in some cases consider routes exceeding 20 hours total
Hongkongers stranded in disaster-hit areas of Japan are scrambling for air tickets home, spending days securing seats and finding alternative routes that in some cases exceed 20 hours.
Airlines on Friday announced additional flights and bigger planes to cope with the high demand from hundreds of Hongkongers stranded this week after Typhoon Jebi battered southwest Japan and a magnitude 6.7 earthquake rattled the nation’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. At last count, the quake killed at least 18 people, while the storm claimed at least 11 lives.
Overseas flights from Kansai International Airport, outside Osaka, have been disrupted since Tuesday. New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Hokkaido, is set to resume overseas flights on Saturday after two days of suspension.
While domestic flights at Kansai resumed on Friday, it was unknown when the airport would resume serving international destinations.
All four of the remaining tour groups from Hong Kong stranded in Osaka had returned home, but five tour groups with about 150 Hongkongers due to fly back on Thursday and Friday remained in Sapporo, according to Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, executive director of the Travel Industry Council.
Chan said on Friday an additional eight tour groups comprising about 220 people were supposed to return from Hokkaido on Saturday and Sunday.
Hongkonger Leung Wai-chung, who arrived in Sapporo just hours before the earthquake struck on Thursday, recalled disbelief over the results of his search for an alternative route home amid the scarcity of direct flights from major Japanese cities.
“Travel times going back to Hong Kong could take as long as 20 hours,” he said. “First flying [from New Chitose] to Tokyo, then to Manila and then Hong Kong. It costs HK$18,000 (US$2,200) per person.” Flights from Japan to Hong Kong usually take about four hours.
Leung decided to proceed with his original plan to next visit Okinawa, but that proved a scramble as well.
“Yesterday, I bought a ticket to Okinawa and it’s between about HK$4,000 and HK$5,000. When I checked again this morning, it’s all sold out.”
In Osaka, Hong Kong pop singer Quinn Lui Kiu-yan, travelling with friends when the typhoon hit, spent two days securing tickets for her journey home.
“We’d known there would be a typhoon but didn’t think the situation could turn so ugly,” Lui said.
“The situation was pretty bad. No one could get tickets. We heard that some people tried to fly from Tokyo, Nagoya or other nearby cities, but flights were either fully booked or some tickets were going for about HK$10,000.”
“We spent two full days calling here and there trying desperately to get tickets,” the singer added. Her group managed to book a flight back to Hong Kong on Saturday from the city of Miyazaki, on the southern island of Kyushu.
But finding a way to Miyazaki, more than 600km southwest of Osaka, was not easy.
Lui said all buses to the southern city had limited seats available. And the overnight journey took about eight hours.
While it remained unclear when international services would resume at Kansai, Cathay Pacific Airways announced on Friday it was offering additional flights to and from Nagoya this weekend.
Hong Kong Airlines said it would use bigger aircraft in its service to Okayama and Narita, Tokyo, to accommodate more passengers. The carrier added it would operate an additional flight to Okayama on Saturday.
But it cancelled all flights between Hong Kong and Osaka until September 19, according to a post from the airline on Twitter at 10pm on Friday.
Hong Kong Express suggested travellers in Osaka return to Hong Kong via Nagoya, Hiroshima or Fukuoka, saying it would use bigger aircraft and try to arrange additional flights to those cities.
An online search by the Post found the earliest available direct flight from Nagoya to Hong Kong was next Friday at a rate of HK$16,000. While a connecting flight is available next Tuesday, passengers must transfer at New Chitose, and the journey home would take about 27 hours total.