In mid-January 2022 authorities in Hong Kong were busy adding restrictions due to the rise of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, with one of the major travel closures being a near-total ban for passenger transit itineraries through the hub, for an initial period of one month.
The policy was later extended as the city faced a large wave of infections, but with numbers on the decline, Hong Kong started allowing transit passengers once again from 1st April 2022.
The city has now revealed another welcome enhancement for travellers, with pre-departure testing for those in transit, first enforced in December last year, set to be relaxed from 1st June 2022.
Hong Kong’s changing transit passenger rules
As part of recent COVID-19 relaxations, including a halving of quarantine to seven days and a termination of the city’s flight ban from nine countries, Hong Kong already allowed passengers from over 150 “Group A” countries to transit through to airport again from 1st April 2022.
For the closure period, only those passengers on flights arriving in Hong Kong from cities in China and Taiwan were allowed to continue to connect to onward flights through the airport, but those starting their journey from any other country were basically ineligible for transit to any destination from 15th January 2022 to 31st March 2022.
PDT ditched for transit passengers from 1 June
It’s great that transits through Hong Kong are back, but in more good news they will become simpler from next month, with the government lifting the requirement for passengers to take a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours of departure from their origin point, merely to transit the airport en-route to their final destination.
Hong Kong Transit PCR requirements
(until 31st May 2022)
- A negative COVID-19 PCR or RT-PCR test taken at most 48 hours before departure of the last direct flight to Hong Kong, SAR China. More information can be found here.
- The name in the test result must match the name on the travel document, or a written confirmation issued by the laboratory with the name of the passenger must be presented
- You must provide a document proving that the laboratory is:
- ISO 15189 accredited; or
- approved by the local government.
- All documents must be in Chinese or English.
Source: IATA Timatic
The rule was originally added on 8th December 2021, regardless of the testing requirement applicable for a passenger’s final destination.
For those heading to the USA through Hong Kong, including on Singapore Airlines’ SQ8 service which made a transit stop in the city, it meant getting an expensive PCR test within 1 day of departure to satisfy both the destination requirement (USA requires ART or PCR 1 day before) and the Hong Kong transit requirement, or alternatively take two separate pre-departure tests!
Hong Kong later tightened its conditions for transit passengers further, requiring them to have a negative PCR test within 48 hours of their first flight departure from 24th December 2021, a policy which has remained in force, until now.
The news means transit itineraries like Singapore – Hong Kong – New York will be close to hassle-free once again for fully vaccinated travellers.
Unfortunately Cathay Pacific, the primary hub carrier through Hong Kong, is retaining three times total service to and from Singapore in the whole of June 2022, limiting transit opportunities significantly.
Award space on these flights has also been very limited, while revenue passengers are presumably prioritised on the small number of services.
By July, Cathay is increasing to three times weekly service, and hopefully these flight schedules can progressively increase further in the weeks ahead, allowing us to potentially make more use of our Asia Miles again.
Within the same announcement, Hong Kong has also confirmed that travellers heading to the city as a final destination, who must conduct a PCR test within 48 hours of departure, will no longer need to present documentary laboratory proof of the ISO 15189 accreditation or recognition of the facility they were tested at, simplifying that process too.
Will Singapore Airlines reinstate San Francisco via Hong Kong?
When Hong Kong’s transit ban first came about in January, Singapore Airlines was already planning to give up on its San Francisco via Hong Kong SQ8 (formerly SQ2) services by the end of that month, owing to the flight ban for passengers from the USA.
That development had already led the carrier to make SQ7 (formerly SQ1) from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong a non-stop service, bypassing the Asian city, earlier the same month.
The news of the transit ban, which would also affect passengers travelling from Singapore to the USA with a brief stopover in the city, led SIA to bring forward the service’s cancellation by a week.
It has since been replaced by a three times weekly non-stop SQ31/32 service between Singapore and San Francisco, supplementing existing daily SQ33/34, with recent confirmation of overall double-daily operation on the non-stop route from June.
Flight bans are also still in place for Hong Kong-bound airlines, though those have been relaxed slightly in this latest announcement, but they have already resulted in Singapore Airlines and Scoot dropping all connecting itineraries to the city from elsewhere on the network, to avoid inevitable blackout periods.
Even with the latest process simplification for transit passengers, like those on SQ7/8 who needed a PDT even when travelling all the way from Singapore to San Francisco, we doubt the airline will be in any hurry to reinstate this service, given its recent increase for non-stop operation between Changi and the U.S. West Coast.
Hong Kong will take a step towards pre-COVID travel normality in June, by allowing transit passengers to pass through the hub without the need for a pre-departure COVID-19 test at their point of original departure, saving time and inconvenience for those taking such routings.
Flight schedules through Hong Kong do remain limited, but this is a welcome step as the SAR’s border measures inevitably relax (eventually!) towards pre-COVID norms.
Whether Singapore Airlines will be keen to restart its regular flights to San Francisco via Hong Kong remains another matter, given that the carrier effectively gave up on the route as soon as transit complications began to arise last year, adding more non-stop services through to October 2022 to compensate.
Indeed it’s almost amusing to contemplate that Hong Kong was, at one point, set to be Singapore’s first quarantine-free travel option after COVID-19 hit, while it now looks likely to be one of the last to be reinstated.
(Cover Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong)