Hong Kong Airport Is Adding A (Poorly Thought Out) Fast Track Security Channel

Cathay Pacific has one of my favorite first class products in the world, though in the past I’ve noted how they sort of drop the ball when it comes to the overall ground experience in Hong Kong. They have very nice check-in counters and a gorgeous first class lounge, but no sort of priority security screening or immigration.

Many other airports have developed priority queues for premium passengers, so at a minimum, it would be nice to see that for Cathay Pacific first class.

The awesome Danny Lee of the South China Morning Post reports on how Hong Kong International Airport is introducing a fast track security channel in September. You’d think this would be exciting news, though unfortunately it’s so poorly executed that it’s just about useless, in my opinion. Why?

  • The airport is introducing a dedicated premium security channel, but not a premium immigration channel, which is always where the holdup is at the airport; I’ve never waited long at security, while I’ve often waited quite a bit at immigration
  • The priority security queue can also be used by those with specials needs and reduced mobility, those who are pregnant, the elderly, and adults with infants; I’m all for providing special services for people in that category, but there’s absolutely nothing speedy about going through security with those who need extra time
  • Airlines who choose to opt into this fast track security lane will have to pay 20HKD (~2.50USD) per premium passenger for the service, so this could potentially cost many airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and you know over time the cost of that will be passed on to consumers; this is allegedly being done to subsidize this being available to those with special needs

So while I was excited when I first heard that a fast track option was being introduced, this sounds useless. The bottleneck has always been at immigration (which is right after security) and not at security, so this accomplishes very little to begin wth. I don’t remember security ever taking more than 10 minutes or so. On top of that, the priority line will also be open to those with special needs, which does anything to speed up the process.

What do you make of Hong Kong Airport’s new fast track security lane — am I missing something?

Comments

  1. Regular travelers simply need to sign up for the frequent traveler program and then immigration is a breeze. I go to HK at least 10 times per year and in the last few years have never needed to queue more than a few mins

  2. Most of the HK based elite members or premium cabin flyers or frequent visitors have access to a really fast e-channel immigration access. Therefore most of us will be happy to see this change actually.

  3. I’m fine with fast track security for premium passengers, and indeed I’ve used it on the occasions I’ve been fortunate to have such access, but immigration/customs is another matter. For example, I live in Canada, and when air passengers arrive at Pearson in Toronto, everybody waits in the same customs line. Nobody has special status for entry to my country, we all have equal status, and that’s the way I like it.

  4. At the end of the day, regardless of the “two systems” mantra, Hong Kong is still China and immigration is a bureaucratic function. No amount of money, largesse, or pandering is gonna get anybody through there faster unless someone in Beijing decides it’s a good idea.

    Security, on the other hand, is a devolved function, left to the SAR leadership, and so is relatively flexible.

  5. @Lucky, since you are holder of a german passport, you can enrolled for e-channel which should solve all the immigration problems

  6. Having just flown from HKG on saturday, I agree that this is useless. Immigration is definitely the hold up and Cathay Pacific would do well to work with the airport to add staff/open lanes when there are long lanes at the few windows they have open.

  7. If there was one thing HK airport did not need it was this. Average wait was 4.5 mins for 99% of passengers in 2016-17 financial year for the HK Airport’s Authority. This hardly makes having a premium security line necessary or worthwhile.

    I live in HK and use the airport once a week on average and never had to wait long for security. Immigration is a different matter if u don’t have an ID card or Frequent Visitor status. Not that the latter is that hard to get.

    If the Airport wanted to do something for premium passengers how about a separate bus to/from remote stands like they do in China. If you land at a remote stand nothing signifies the end of the premium experience more than being squeezed into a bus like a can of sardines plus as you’re the first one you’re usually the last off.

  8. Immigration is less of an issue for those based in Hong Kong. Residents get ID cards that go through the electronic gates with a finger print reader. Most of Cathy’s frequent fliers are HK based or have sufficient HK connections to have a HK ID. Connecting passengers have a separate security area and no immigration checkpoint. The immigration lines do impact those with HK as a destination, but outside of Heathrow and Australia, most countries do not have priority immigration.

  9. This just goes to show that HK’s immigration administration cares nothing about the city, its image or its economy. I’m pretty sure whoever planned this thought and tried to create an immigration fast track but it simply didn’t work out.
    Many years ago I was flying CX First out of HK for the first time, unsure if a premium lane exist I approached one officer to ask. His response was: what do I care if you are First Class or not. Ok, fair enough.
    I try to avoid departing HKG if I can from then on.

  10. Certain airlines FFP elite members can also apply for e-gate access regardless citizenship status. You just need to have proper travel documents to enter HK. I applied for e-gate by using my CX MPC gold.

  11. I’ve never understood why HKG didn’t have priority lanes for departing premium passengers (at least CX premium passengers)

  12. @Charlie McMillan
    “For example, I live in Canada, and when air passengers arrive at Pearson in Toronto, everybody waits in the same customs line. Nobody has special status for entry to my country, we all have equal status, and that’s the way I like it”

    Except diplomats.

    And “VIP”s.

    And anyone rich enough to use the general aviation terminal.

    Oh yes, but apart from them, everyone’s equal in your country.

    Though if you have a US passport you’ll get special treatment.

  13. This is a great idea and I’m looking forward to it. For immigration, just get e-channel access. Only takes a few minutes and it’s good for the life of your passport.

  14. @Paul, I should have mentioned those with Global Entry or NEXUS can skip the regular line. That would cover most of the folks you mentioned. But it’s still fair because anyone can apply for those passes by choice, and airline status or premium cabin is unrelated.

  15. @Charlie McMillan, wholly agree with all your points.

    To those who complained about the immigration queues: Why not enroll in the e-channel program?
    Unlike Global Entry and the like, it is free and open to travelers of all nationalities!

  16. Just apply for the echannel, as a frequent traveller, I get through immagration within a minute!

  17. Just apply for Frequent Visitor and join us locals at eChannel (Like ePassport at Heathrow)

    HK is very egalitarian–and we love our civilised queues.. if it makes you feel better the guy behind you might very well have a Forbes ranking

  18. “Certain airlines FFP elite members can also apply for e-gate access regardless citizenship status. You just need to have proper travel documents to enter HK. I applied for e-gate by using my CX MPC gold.”

    I’d like to know how to get more information on this. I tried to look it up online, and it seemed it’s only available for HK residents, but not for frequent visitors who are not residents.

  19. @Robert Hanson,

    Pretty easy – once you exit immigration in HKG (either side) there is an e-channel signup “cubicle” – You need your passport and either 3+ entries to HK in the last 12 months (they can look this up) or status in a FF program – (CX seems to work best, but they took my AA EXP) – it took may 15 minutes, and as stated above, it is free and IIRC, lasts 10 years. Seriously saves time @ HKG.

  20. US Citizens should apply for the APEC Business Travel Card – I have it and it allows you to use the APEC channel in most all Asia airports. I have never waited in HKG since having it. Moreover, it works both in and out of HKG and other airports.

    Charlie McMillan is right that you need to be Global Entry before applying for it, but once you have it it’s great.

  21. The trouble with HKIA is the management is mostly mainly chinese appointed by the board, and their mentality is still very primitive and not knowing the world is a sphere.

  22. How do I apply for the APEC card if I already have Global Entry? When I sign into my GOES account, the website has no place to do anything but update my Global Entry information.

    Also, does anyone know whether any of the credit cards that will reimburse for pre-Check and Global Entry fees will reimburse for the APEC card fee? Can the credit card companies tell the difference in what you are being charged for?

  23. Samuelo – They actually are going to do something about that – they are planning to build a bridge to the remote stand, high enough so planes can pass under it. Apparently the buses are also a pain for airside operations so they want an alternative solution.

  24. @Nick, I was not talking about the “North Concourse” and the bus you need to take to that but actually landing at a remote stand (i.e. no gate).

    The charge for the premium line is to be passed onto premium passengers by the airlines. Most airlines (but not CX) are questioning why HKIA needs this when the average queuing time at security is less than 5 minutes. CX on the other hands “welcomes any initiative that boosts the customer experience”. If they wanted to boost the customer experience I would start with improving their inflight catering and providing an escort for F passengers to/from lounge.

  25. That’s not very accurate. At Heathrow, or at JFK, the queue isn’t at clearing immigration but at security. Sometimes you need to consider the context before saying it’s poorly thought out. In Hong Kong, you often see many passengers say they’re going to miss their flight so they just shortcircuit, in what you seem to say, a short queue. I think it’s a brilliant idea, potentially paving way for opening up priority lanes for clearing immigration. Not all steps have to be revolutionary, and I feel your criticism is ill founded.

  26. As everyone else has said, sign up for frequent channel. I have a barcode on the back of my passport that lets me use electronic gates and it means I’m in and out in a minute. Costs nothing, and all because I had Qantas Gold / oneworld Sapphire.

  27. @Norman, regarding your original comment “Many years ago I was flying CX First out of HK for the first time, unsure if a premium lane exists I approached one officer to ask. His response was: what do I care if you are First Class or not. Ok, fair enough.
    I try to avoid departing HKG if I can from then on.”

    You are 100 % right if the front line workers at an airport have a bad attitude that “I don’t care if you are a passenger or not” and you won’t go to that city anymore.

    I was rejected by a NRT screening security guard to use priority line after I showed the Star Alliance gold card to him.

    He didn’t really care and repetitively said “no” only and I also pointed to the poster on booth at the security checkpoint which obviously said I’m qualified. He doesn;t speak any English at all apparently and It’s no use to complain to someone working at the security who speak a little bit better English.

    So I just gave up and try to avoid Tokyo from then onward.

    You wonder it is big Tokyo airport and they don’t hire better English speaking staff who is ignorant of the rules posted as well.

  28. I live in HK, so immigration isn’t an issue for me. To be honest, I don’t find security that time consuming. Something no one has mentioned – opening it to the elderly etc means that every extended family is going to suddenly have an old and infirm relative who needs priority security, and the ten or so other family members accompanying poor old grandma or grandpa are going to need to use the priority lane too, right? Call me cynical but after living in HK long enough, the ridiculous sense of FOMO and competition that pervades every part of life here means any chance to jump the line to save a few seconds. The regular security lines will probably be quicker.

  29. @Charlie McMillan, wholly agree with all your points.
    Airlines as private companies can give preferential treatment to their best customers, Immigration control is a task for the State and all should be equal facing it.

    Lucky, I’m not sure that I understand when you write “On top of that, the priority line will also be open to those with special needs, which does anything to speed up the process” :
    Are you implying that lowly cripples will be allowed the bad taste of disturbing First Class flyers? I hope I misread you.

  30. Who uses regular immigration lines these days? Anyone with a frequent flier card is eligible for eChannel at HKG, sign up takes about 3 mins.

  31. Hong Kong airport has oneof the quickest immigration line called e-channel for everyone who has HKID card. It takes less than few minutes to get through the line.

  32. Mallthus: “At the end of the day, regardless of the “two systems” mantra, Hong Kong is still China and immigration is a bureaucratic function. No amount of money, largesse, or pandering is gonna get anybody through there faster unless someone in Beijing decides it’s a good idea.”

    You really don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?

    Immigration in and out of HK is wholly in the hands of HK Immigration Department. The under-staffing and lack of care which others have commented on here, they own 100%. There is enough reasons to bash Beijing’s interference in HK, but this is just not one of them, and the SAR government can’t use Beijing as a fig leaf here. It is strange because in other matters – like handling residency issues – I find them quite efficient and even friendly.

    Of course, as a resident, 99% of my encounters are with those awesome thumb-reading E-channels, which have made going through HK airport a breeze for us residents for many years now.

  33. I think there’s a. it of confusion, here, as some people talk about depature immigration (i.e. emigration) and others about arrival immigration. I think Lucky was referring to depatures, which in HKG consists of two,check points: First security and second “emigration” (i.e. immigration officers checking passports/visas of persons departing.

    Frankly, the US, Canada or the UK have no departure passport check by government officers: You go through security and right to the gate. Obviously, these countries typically require API to be filled by the airline, so they also have a record of who departed. In HKG (similar to continental Europe, Austraila or New Zealand, however, there is separate check point, staffed with immigration officers.

    There are indeed not many countries who provide a government service at different service levels, for premium and non-premium passengers, as this would be seen as non constitutional. So, Lucky, that’s perhaps a bit too mich to ask.

    Talking about HKG, I find it at the lengthy end of the spectrum for all three, immigration, emigration, security – but still bearable. Smaller airports tend to be better, for obvious reasons.

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