Asia Pacific Airports - Musings
Do airport buildings, processing and customer experience reflect the best or worst of a specific city culture, collective attitude and population's behaviour?
Gold Coast International Airport has no passenger chutes that interface with arriving aircraft. Huddled between the ocean and the hills, it captures the feel of going easy like on a holiday escape. The sunlight is strong as passengers come outdoors to walk to immigration or transit. The check in bags take some time to come out, as there is a lack of urgency in the South Pacific.
Melbourne international airport terminal at Tullamarine has rather low level ceilings. The facility looks jaded for passengers. There is no dedicated fast track queue line for frequent business passengers. The experience does not echo the fact that Melbourne has been consistently rated by western observers as having as the best quality of life.
Chep Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong is sited on an island in a typhoon impact area of southern China. The Airport Express train is rather efficient in moving arriving or leaving passengers in the shortest possible time from and to the city centre. Its popularity may mean no seating opportunity during crowded sessions. There is also the mystery of why Kowloon Station is dedicated to this airport train service only and is not connected to the primary MTR network more seamlessly. If you do buy a return Airport express ticket, be mindful to start the train journey back from the station where you first arrived.
Hong Kong Airport is also constructed like more for residents used to high rise living. Even getting to a flight departure gate may mean riding escalators ceaselessly as if you are on a shopping centre. No boarding announcements are offered in some airline lounges.
KLIA, where you land heading for the Malaysian capital, is built with so many large spaces it can often be under used. Its location amongst agricultural palm oil landscapes can mean your aircraft landing or taking off over unlit topography - and you having to allow some time before you step out in the city centre. The KLIA Airport Express takes longer to connect to KL when compared to the experience in Hong Kong. In both cities, you can check in your bags from a city based counter. Make extra time trying to negotiate with heavy bags entering into lifts required to make your way from the airport train to the departure level - the wait time at such lifts can be exasperating.
Shantou Airport has possibly the most expensive bowl of noodles to consume once you get into the flight waiting zone. The coffee is expensive compared to Western nation prices in Beijing. Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore offer relatively tasty food for airport tuckers.
Despite replicating several Customs and border protection procedures from Sydney, Auckland International Airport is a much more relaxing experience for arriving passengers, especially appreciated when New Zealand is located at a rather remote part of the globe and it does take some time to reach there. Perhaps the best process for declaring or not declaring stuff in bags can be found here - each officer stand behind a personalised podium, which provides clarity, orderliness and personalisation. It is also relatively to be picked up once you are outside - a point lost by the operators of Penang International Airport.
Changi International Airport regularly upgrades their services in a competitive strategy for an island nation without natural resources - and with a full appreciation of the need to provide the best possibilities in transport hub experience. The inter terminal train service is a joy to ride - but passengers, once in their right terminals, may have to struggle walking over long distances to reach their far flung departure gates. Horizontal escalators help but can be over done. The presence of honking passenger assist vehicles does get irritating and such vehicles should not have the ability to be driven all over the pedestrian floors ( a dedicated path enhances safety).
Changi can get over the top with distracting decorations or activity corners. The availability of regular and fast connections to the city and its suburbs on the primary MRT network is a plus - Tullamarine in contrast stands out like a poppy flower in not having train connections at all to the city centre.
The most simple - and effective - layout for an optimal passenger experience perhaps belongs to Hanoi's airport, Noi Bai. Small in size, passengers go through short but clear stages of the process necessary to board on or disembark from a plane. There are no distractions but that can however turn into a disadvantage if one has to wait long hours in the rather limited building.
The Capital International Airport at Beijing emphasises everything large in size, with the need to process huge numbers of passengers and the underlying theme of growing capacity needs. You feel like in a cavernous castle with many rooms, huge courtyards and a hive of activity. Queues are essential but can get disjointed. It can be akin to travelling through the spaciousness of the Forbidden City downtown.
Penang International Airport makes arriving passengers go through what can be illogical stages of walk stages and escalators before arriving on the ground floor to Immigration and to claim check in luggage. The airport building is relatively small by cosmopolitan standards, so why not design a straight walk through to the formalities before getting out? There is also a deja vu atmosphere of the stereotyped ruckus when a visitor finally comes out, accompanied by a blast of humidity, to face orderless traffic and parked vehicles whose drivers simply have no sense of civility whilst waiting for their pick ups.
Sydney's Kingsford-Smith Airport does better in providing vehicle parking spaces than in concentrating on better customer engagement and experience. With high charges for parking, whether for aircraft or cars, it has also turned off passengers when they face road traffic bottlenecks trying to reach the airport to take a flight. Disembarking from your flight at Sydney International often means facing long queues for checking by customs. Then it means facing over the top priced train tickets for a short ride to the city centre.
The longest airport wait times for check in baggage claim are often at Sydney and KLIA. The shortest are at Hong Kong and Singapore - go figure.