The Trip That Never Took Off - Hong Kong to Penghu

Trip Overview

With the Wuhan virus spreading across the region and many of us locked up at home and working remotely, I was hoping to take a long weekend for some fresh air and to use up my carry-over 2019 leave. 4 days were enough to cover Taiwan, and I had initially booked an outing to Penghu, one of the off-the-beaten track outlying islands mostly frequented by domestic tourists. With mainlanders shunned by Taiwanese authorities in the health emergency and mainlanders shunning Taiwan after the elections, I expected no crowds, fresh air, and taking my face mask off entirely.

I had a leftover leg from my Toronto premium economy journey last October from Hong Kong to Kaohsiung to finish off my ex-Taiwan discount fare, so I paid a small change fee to move that to February just before Christmas. Using my BA avios, I booked a free trip for the inbound with only 6000 avios, a steal but much more expensive than 4500 before the devaluation.

CX flight details

BA redemption flight details

With my Hong Kong - Taiwan flights set, I scoured online for a cheap deal to Penghu. Some tourist literature mentioned a ferry from Chiayi, a few towns further north, but I didn't have enough time to waste a few hours on the boat each way, so I opted to fly. Taiwan's domestic flights have been plagued by a persistent number of accidents. While the days of China Airlines losing a widebody jet annually are long over, the smaller carriers that fly domestically continue to be plagued with problems. FAT was the latest one to go, and TransAsia disappeared recently as well. I was down to 2 choices, Mandarin Airlines and Uni Air, backed by the 2 main aviation groups on the island.

I was indifferent to either of them, but Mandarin was cheaper and I ended up booking them for about TWD 4600 roundtrip including taxes. The 40-minute flight on a turboprop was bearable although sometimes they fly an Embraer on the route.

Unfortunately, Taiwan announced quarantine measures for Hong Kong visitors 2 days before I was due to fly. This was just within a day after I had booked my domestic flight. Foreigners who have recently been to mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau would be subject to 14 days of quarantine upon arrival. With so little time before departure, I scrambled to call the 3 airlines to cancel. First was Cathay, whose line was not even connecting due to the volume. Going on the Asia Miles webchat didn't help either as the line moved slowly. By the time I was able to connect an hour and a half later, the chat was still stuck in queue in the low single digits. I was able to move the date of my flight for free to April, hoping things would calm down a bit by then.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China Announcement

British Airways announced online that they were also offering free date changes and cancellations for any itinerary that touches Hong Kong as a result of the coronavirus. But before I could call them to do this, Cathay already cancelled my inbound. I first received an SMS, then email, followed by BA emailing me the same. This happened as I was on the phone with Cathay, but since the ticket was on BA stock, they couldn't do more for me. I would figure this out the next morning and have a good night's sleep.

CX notification email on cancellation

Overnight, Cathay rebooked me onto the next morning's flight from Kaohsiung to Hong Kong. BA also notified me and asked to accept online. Their processing was far more seamless, with the online functionality allowing to accept the new flight or to request a refund entirely. I chose the latter, and the avios were redeposited back into my account within days. No call to the BA helpdesk was necessary. Wonderful.

BA notification email and request for flight change confirmation

Finally, I had to call China Airlines to fix my Mandarin Airlines domestic flight. On their website, they had more stringent requirements, noting reservations must have been made before Jan 31 to qualify, among other criteria. I didn't fall into that category, so I was hoping the mandatory quarantine would prompt an exception if I were to call them. After an hour wait on the phone, I finally got to an agent, who noted my flight was refundable online through their Chinese website. She walked me through the steps and surprisingly, the English website didn't have the same function! After a few clicks on the clunky old-styled interface and having to input my 2 flights separately, the refund was submitted with a 25% service charge, a standard percentage for my discount ticket. I had initially expected this cheap roundtrip would need to be forfeited. A day later, I got an email on the cancellation.

Mandarin Airlines website with cancellation function

Cancel request screen

Cancel request screen

After cancelling 3 airlines' flights, I bid farewell to my Penghu trip with minimal losses. Hope I can make it there again later in the year once the virus situation subsides.

The Next Episode : My Replacement Trip
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