At first glance, Hong Kong International Airport appears to have everything you would expect from a high-quality airport: Bathrooms that are regularly cleaned and friendly faces at the customer service centers lead you to believe that help is efficient and readily available – but like many things in Hong Kong and China, you can’t always believe what you see.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:50am on July 31st, via Hong Kong Express Airways on Flt #UO1755 from gate 522. We arrived at the airport the night before to make sure we were on time for our flight. We asked the shuttle bus driver to let us off at our airline’s check-in terminal, and he let us off at terminal 1, when in fact it we needed to check in at Terminal 2. We found this information out from an airport security officer, who told us to go check in right away. We then went to the Hong Kong Express counters to check in our luggage, but were told to come back after 5am the next morning. We got in line after 5am, and after waiting in line to check in, going through immigration and airport security, and arriving at the gate on time, we were told we were too late and we needed to purchase new tickets. The total cost of the new tickets for me, my wife, and my baby were going to be twice as much as what we paid for. We never heard our names called or a final boarding announcement on the way there. We asked the man at the gate, Horris, to see his supervisor and he told us that we would have to wait for about an hour to get this resolved. Finally his manager, Jimmy, showed up and adamantly told us that the airline had a strict policy of closing their gate exactly 20 minutes before departure. We told him that we were there on time and asked him to review the security cameras to see when we arrived at the gate. He dismissed our request without a second thought and said that we needed to buy new tickets at full price, and if we had a problem, we could call the police. It was interesting to note that the flight departing from gate 525 next door, Hong Kong Express Flt#UO 273 was accepting passengers for up to almost 5 minutes before departure.
So far, we were only having problems with the airlines, so we told them to call the police. We thought that maybe the police would help us resolve the issue. We were wrong. They told us that they had no right to look at the airport security cameras so they referred us to Hong Kong Airport Authority. Airport Authority promptly said that it wasn’t their problem and told us to talk to the airlines. We asked the airline staff to speak to Jimmy’s manager and they said that couldn’t help us unless we wanted to buy new tickets, and said that if we needed any more help, we should call the police. So we spent the next ten hours being pushed from one department of the airport to the next, trying to find someone to help us. The response everywhere was clear and unanimous: “not our problem, here is a number or email address, do it yourself.” So finally, in front of Airport Aurhority, the airlines, and the police, I demanded to see the security footage. I told them that in the event of a fight or someone getting hurt, they would be able to and want to see the camera footage, so why did they all refuse to check it for us? I offered them a simple solution: The airline said they had a very strict policy of closing their gate exactly 20 minutes before departure – to everyone. So if the cameras said that we were late and the people on the neighboring Hong Kong Express flight were on time before they closed the gates, we would pay the full price. But if we were in fact, on time, and the people on the other Hong Kong Express flight were late but were still allowed to board, the airline should take responsibility and put us on another flight, free of charge. We argued with them for another hour or so. The authorities talked with the airline staff at great length, while they only briefly asked us what happened. When more officers came, they only talked to the bosses of the airlines: they weren’t interested in hearing our side of the story. Worse than that, nobody – not the police or the Hong Kong Airport Authority - wanted to see the security footage to see who was telling the truth. They just assumed that the airline staff member was right. They were deliberately ignoring the evidence because they were scared of having made a mistake and needing to take responsibility for it. And they were proud of it – proud that they didn’t need to show us any proof just because they all agreed we were wrong. Never have I seen so many people so proud to be so ignorant. They kept complaining that I was arguing in English, saying that this was Hong Kong and we should be talking in Cantonese. I don’t speak Cantonese. And even though many of them could speak English, they kept trying to use my wife as a translator. My wife, who speaks Cantonese, was caught between looking after our baby and trying to explain our situation to whoever would listen. Finally, Hong Kong Airport Authority said that our tickets were no longer valid and that we needed to leave the security area, and the police said that if we refused they would arrest us for obstruction of justice. We asked them if they could at least review the security footage. They said that they would, but that we wouldn’t be allowed to see it for “security reasons.” Minutes later, in a deliberate show of force, we were escorted out of the security area by a dozen or so officers, about half of which were armed with machine guns. Finally, the Airport Authority officer came back and said that the footage showed that we were 10 minutes late. I asked him whether or not he checked to see if the other passengers on the neighboring Hong Kong Express flight were late and allowed to board, and he said that he didn’t check. My wife overheard another officer in Cantonese saying that the videos on their cameras weren’t clear and that they couldn’t see anything. I suppose that if the authorities show this level of irresponsibility, corruption, and ignorance, how could we expect them to be fair?
On another note, while we were running around, it was interesting to observe the demographics of the people complaining and having other problems at the airport. No Hong Kong citizens seemed to be having any problems. There were a few white foreigners that were arguing at the counters. There were more brown foreigners and mainland Chinese that were having issues with airport and airline personnel (they were speaking in Mandarin or other languages). However, there were many black foreigners that seemed to be having problems at nearly every place we went. I don’t know what country most of them were from. I don’t know what their issues were. I’m not even black. But just from looking around, there seemed to be clear discrimination against certain groups of people and preferential treatment given to others.