One of the joys of flying out of Hong Kong is In Town Check-in; this is a feature that allows passengers to check-in while still in the city, up to a full day before their flight. Passengers who are taking the Airport Express train can check-in, drop off their bags, and receive their boarding pass before boarding the Airport Express train from the city stations.
However, it appears that Cathay Pacific is suspending the In Town Check-In feature for flights to the United States. Cathay Pacific operates non-stop flights from Hong Kong (HKG) to San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), New York-JFK, Chicago (ORD), and Boston (BOS). Passengers on these flights will soon have to check-in at the airport, and be subject to an additional interview prior to boarding. CX 888, which flies from Hong Kong to New York-JFK via Vancouver (YVR), is not affected by this new policy.
Per current policy, US-bound flights are already subject to an exception, whereby you cannot use in town check-in more than 24 hours before your flight. All other flights currently allow check-in a calendar day in advance, even if it’s more than 24 hours. Beginning October 26, 2017, all US-bound direct flights will not be eligible for in town check-in. Here is Cathay Pacific’s full statement about this policy change:
To meet the enhanced US Security Measures effective 26 October 2017, Cathay Pacific will suspend In Town Check-in and Self-Bag Drop services for passengers booked on flights to the United States, with the exception of those travelling on Flight CX888 to New York/JFK via Vancouver.
While passengers may still check in online, they are asked to check in their baggage at the dedicated counters on Aisle B at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), where they will be subject to a short security interview. Passengers without check-in baggage should proceed to the boarding gate directly as early as possible, where they will be also be subject to a short security interview.
We therefore advise all passengers travelling to the U.S. to arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure to ensure they can proceed through all airport checkpoints in good time.
Interestingly, no other airlines that operate direct flights from Hong Kong to the US has issued a similar policy just yet. United Airlines and American Airlines both fly non-stop from Hong Kong to multiple US destinations, and Delta flies direct from Hong Kong to Seattle (SEA). Singapore Airlines also operates a non-stop flight to San Francisco (SFO). All of these flights are still eligible for in town check-in as of this writing.
I’m not entirely sure what this policy will accomplish, since the in town check-in counters largely function the same way as airport counters. Perhaps it’s a concern about checked bags? But any luggage that’s dropped off is simply sent to the airport and put in the cargo hold ahead of time, which is something you can also do if you are physically at the airport (since Cathay Pacific counters are always open due to their hub status). And all of them get the same scrutiny prior to being loaded anyway. Of course, if you have a long layover, you are not required to retrieve your checked luggage.
I suspect this change is enables airline personnel to ask specific questions at the airport, perhaps similar to those you’d be asked if flying, say, out of London. “Did you pack your own bags?” “Did anyone have access to your bags between you packing them and now?” However, I don’t see why staff members working at the in town check-in counters can’t just undergo similar training.
As for the additional “security interview,” I’d be curious to know what that would entail and how it would be implemented. Passengers on US-bound flights already go through an additional “water search” at the boarding gate, so hopefully this additional interview won’t add too much to the process already in place.
Ultimately, I think there might be more than meets the eye here. Perhaps Cathay Pacific is just following what they are being told, or perhaps they are being proactive in this policy change. Regardless, passengers will be losing a major convenient option to being able to drop off their bags early before heading to the airport.