Long walks of frustration as Hong Kong protesters paralyse airport access

Passengers push through protesters at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Huiyee Chiew was so inconvenienced by the bumper-to-bumper gridlock surrounding Hong Kong's airport on Sunday that she took matters into her own hands - or more accurately her feet.

With no other means of transport, the 25-year-old Malaysian chose to walk from Tung Chung for more than an hour in a panicked rush to make her flight.

She was one of thousands of travellers who were stranded, delayed or otherwise seriously inconvenienced as anti-government protesters defied a court injunction and paralysed transport links to Hong Kong International Airport - one of the busiest air hubs in the world.

Starting in early afternoon, hundreds of protesters flooded the airport and the neighbouring town of Tung Chung in yet another disruptive move to pressure the government to respond to their demands, which they feel have been ignored.

Airport Express, the direct rail line, and multiple bus routes were down from early afternoon. Roads were jammed with bumper-to-bumper vehicles to Tsing Ma Bridge. Many protesters, aircrews and travellers like Chiew were forced to walk in heat and intermittent rain for more than an hour to reach the airport.

Tourists and travellers suffered serious inconveniences, some blasting the protesters but others sympathising with the citywide non-co-operation campaign that has only escalated and evolved since it took hold of the city in June.

Mr Fu was on his way to London with his wife and young daughter. The family had to walk from the cargo zone at the airport to make a flight at 7pm.

"The police should have dispersed them [protesters] because this was illegal. They should not have been here," said Fu as he stood in a long queue.

"But they will never win, China will never give in."

A Portuguese passenger surnamed Ribeiro was bound for Macau but said he was unable to find his driver in the chaos.

"I understand why they are doing it but sometimes I think it is just too much," Ribeiro said. "I know what they are trying to achieve, but I don't always agree with how they do it."

But Chiew, who works in Taipei, said the demonstrators she met on the road were peaceful.

"I think it's a smart move to protest here because there are a lot of tourists who have no idea what's going on in Hong Kong," she said. "I don't think [the protesters] should be blamed. It's the system that makes them do this."

The MTR Corporation, which operates Airport Express, reportedly offered cash to travellers to take a taxi to the airport.

By 5pm, traffic was at a standstill at the airport and on Tsing Ma Bridge. Dozens of people were forced to walk to the airport from as far as 16km away. Passengers arriving in Hong Kong had the same problem getting out, some queuing up for taxis for several hours

An airline crew member from Frankfurt, who identified himself as Max, said he and his colleagues were stranded for 45 minutes. He said he only learned about the situation when he arrived, and all the crew wanted was some sleep.

Former Post editor-in-chief Wang Xiangwei tweeted an outline of his "circuitous route" to reach the city. He said he took a ferry from the airport to Shenzhen that cost him HK$220 (S$39) and then he came back to Hong Kong by car.

Michael, 37, who lives in Shenzhen, said he could not make it back to the mainland and also took the Shenzhen ferry.

Michael, who is Taiwanese, flew from Taipei, where he said the debate on Hong Kong's protest crisis was "very divided". He said he hoped for an end to the violence but added that neither side would end up the "winner".

At nearly 8pm, the chaos had subsided at the airport bus terminus although there were still long queues for the few bus services available. Many passengers said they had been waiting for at least an hour.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.