Unless they live on another planet, most people now know that airports are the perfect places to hold demonstrations and gain maximum coverage for a cause. It’s a message that airport authorities in Asia must correct, particularly as conflicts will continue to simmer in the region.
Protestors have occupied and shut down two key Asian airports, first Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi in November 2008 and now Hong Kong International. What sort of message does that send — that airports are easy targets for demonstrators?
The Airport Authority of Hong Kong woefully sealed that message last week. Unbelievably, it took out an advertisement in the city’s English-language newspaper South China Morning Post on September 6 pleading with protesters to “spare our passengers further disruption.”
That didn’t stop protesters, who were probably emboldened. What prevented them was a huge police presence at the airport and its approaching roads, and police checks for protesters in mass-transit stations and trains. In hindsight, authorities could have taken these actions sooner in the pro-democracy battle, now entering its 16th week.
Both the Hong Kong and Bangkok incidents have shown the heavy price paid when protesters take to airports to draw attention to their cause. In both cases, the media spotlight’s glare was at its height when airports had to close, flights canceled and passengers stranded. Overnight, the protests zapped confidence in the cities from investors and business travelers and crippled the countries’ travel and tourism industries. Protesters in both cases apologized to passengers for the disruption — but what good is that?
And what good is it to simply condemn the disruptions, as the Airports Council International Asia-Pacific has done?
Given that Asia has many flash points, as we wrote in our report below, Asian airport authorities should not wait for another Occupy Airport before debating what preventative measures can be taken. It’s surprising, for instance, that the Hong Kong airport authority needed an interim injunction to stop a protest in the airport other than in designated areas. Demonstrations should be banned at airports, period.
Airports owe it to themselves, their countries, the millions who are employed in travel and tourism, and the millions who pass through their terminals to give this issue more thought, rather than dismissing Hong Kong and Bangkok as mere exceptions.
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Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [[email protected]] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.
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Photo credit: Airport Authority of Hong Kong takes up an advertisement pleading with protesters to spare the passengers. Bloomberg