CX 443 Taipei - Hong Kong
Flying into a Protest

My Taipei trip itineraries over the years tend to be quite predictable. I would normally fly at around the dinner hour on a Friday night back to Hong Kong. This trip was originally following the same design, but an email alert the day before departure about a planned protest at Hong Kong airport Friday afternoon changed all that. The government's inability to address public concerns over the controversial extradition bill has led to continuous public protests over the past few weeks. The typical routine is for a peaceful protest to start off but as the night lingered on, things could get more confrontational and police would move in with riot gear and tear gas. Accusations of police brutality have become the norm.

Faced with a potential disaster with a 9pm arrival, I took action and changed to a mid-afternoon flight on the morning of departure. I would land at around 6pm, just before office workers would typically leave, and hopefully things are calmer as protesters may be eating dinner and still in good spirits.

There was no traffic leading out of Taipei just after the lunch hour and I arrived at Taoyuan within 50 minutes. I didn't have to wait for a Marco Polo Club check-in counter and the whole process was efficient.

The only thing I had to stick around for was to make sure my checked bag would pass the initial X-ray scan down at the end of the aisle.

With some time to go before my flight, I hovered around the land-side part of T1 to check out its facilities. The lockers caught my attention right away. I've been used to various types of enhanced security measures over the years. My experience with bag storage at the airport has often been an X-ray scan, then pay and store. Not so here in Taipei. Just pay and store and the check-in desks are just a stone's throw away.

The departures level is just upstairs from the check-in aisles, where there are seating areas at the edges of the building and surrounded by various shops.

The staff at the air-side entry only scanned boarding passes and did not verify any passports or ID, another interesting deviation from standard security measures. There was a short line for security, but immigration was a breeze as I could use the automated machines. I didn't even need to scan my passport. Just 2 fingerprints and I was out of the gate within seconds.

Despite Terminal 1's renovations, the walking distances still remain quite long. Getting from immigration to the first gates took quite some time. I was happy to browse around a few gates to spot some birds before my flight.

EVA is still recovering from a nasty long strike. I remember when I flew in 2 weeks ago, many of their jets were still parked in the far stretches of the tarmac.

Boarding was called timely and there was a dedicated line for elites and Marco Polo members. I need to make that distinction as even the most basic Green member, which is not an elite, could use that much shorter line. Both jetbridges were used today although the Economy one backed up quite a bit. I had checked the seat map before departure and confirmed I would be in a separate and more quiet Economy cabin just ahead of the doors. It was a welcome reprieve as my original flight had scheduled an A350.

We were all ready to go and and pushed back 5 minutes earlier than schedule.

Although EVA operates out of Terminal 2 while Cathay parks at Terminal 1, today's gate is just steps away from Terminal 2, hence it is a sea of green and white.

Cathay operates an incredibly frequent schedule out of here as well, so you will always spot their planes no matter what time of day.

It was a short taxi to the runway. A number of China Airlines planes were parked at the tarmac, including a special livery jet.

We took off towards the south, and my window had a very nice view of the surrounding countryside, framed by the urban areas beyond.

Not long after departure, the coast came into view. We would fly offshore along the coast for a while.

As we veered off the coast towards Hong Kong, a snack was served. Luckily, I bought a salad on the ground and had no interest in eating the roll. Nevertheless, the flight attendant was kind to offer me the boxed drink and cookie instead.

Wifi availability is now advertised as more planes in the fleet have this capability. I guess nobody likes a quiet moment away from replying messages.

Every now and then, I like to photograph the oneworld ads to see how the airlines change over time. Air Berlin is gone for good, and perhaps Qatar is on its way out soon as well?

Watching the route map's changes is also interesting. There are many more North America destinations these days.

The style of advertisements is also changing, and looks more refreshed and innovative.

Looking out, we are nearing our destination.

With no hold or circling today, the flight time would be well under 1.5 hours. The pleasant surprise was we would approach from the east, and my window seat would get wonderful aerials over the city.

We entered Hong Kong through Sai Kung, our tropical backyard. If you have a yacht, it would probably be parked here.

The suburb of Shatin is wedged between tall hills. The once stinky Shing Mun River is now a pleasant place for a jog and fish can survive in there once again.

Despite being a very frequent flyer and a regular on this Taipei route, I still stay awake during the crucial moments of my flights and enjoy seeing this view over and over again.

The government plans to embark on a huge land reclamation project costing HKD $400 billion just above this island to house up to 700,000 people. The East Lantau Metropolis has some Dubai-esque elements to it and has been labelled as another white elephant project that will overrun its very conservative initial estimate.

On final approach, the boundary facilities of the new bridge to Macau and Zhuhai are visible, mostly empty. Cars and trucks still don't frequent this new piece of infrastructure yet, although buses are packed full even if they depart every few minutes.

The airport is expanding as well and the area around T2 is abuzz with activity. The sea in front will also be filled in eventually as part of the new 3rd runway project.

We landed under the blue sky well ahead of schedule. As we taxied to the gate, the crew announced we would arrive at gate 4 and the bags would come out at belt 13.

They are slowly reclaiming their way from the outer perimeter for the new runway.

We stopped during the taxi and the crew announced the gate was still occupied, hence the delay. We eventually parked at a different gate, and waited a while for the doors to be connected as staff rushed over. With the extra time needed for the last minute change, our final arrival time was 5:52pm, which was still ahead of schedule.

By dinner time, the anti-extradition bill protest was well under way. There were no back-ups as I cleared immigration and customs. Upon exiting the doors, the entire arrivals hall was a sea of black. Protesters held signs and handed out leaflets to arriving passengers, and a make-shift Lennon pillar full of post-its emerged. The protesters opened a wide corridor to let people through to the exit, and everything was peaceful. I couldn't help but to take a few photos from the departures hall above before heading home.

Despite the huge crowd, there was still space made around the Airport Express ticket counter.

How many times do you get a VIP greeting like this on arrival?

Welcome home.

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