PT Airport Review

As the days of the second month of 2009 unfold and we reflect on the progress of Tourism from a global perspective, 2008 will be seen as a remarkable year for airport development and dramatic events. All this in the face of the onset of one of the worst global credit crunches and astonishing downturns our planet has ever seen.

This review focuses on the quintessential positives of 4 airports across the globe that are making the life of travellers in transit and more uplifting experience. Perpetual Traveller is however objective by nature, so we have indicated some of the downfalls of each airport for balance.

Once again Hong Kong HKLIA Airport was officially awarded by Industry experts as the best airport all things considered on our planet. HKIA has consistently won this award with only a few gap years since its construction. 

Certainly its a feat of engineering, with an epic glass cathedral type entrance, a slick modern design, extremely clean cut feel, passenger friendly throughout the entire process and pleasingly quick to connect through concerning immigration and security! This is especially remarkable considering the numbers of passengers the facility processes. There is free WiFi too!

Clearly HKIA is supremely organized and hosts a wide range of facilities and services on a constant basis. In fact everything in Hong Kong seems to be perpetually open around the clock, as many of the people in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island live in shifts, as there's simply not enough room for everyone to walk around on the ground level at the same time; thus securing its reputation as the most crowded territory on earth. 

The Shopping is in HKIA is okay, but no real bargains can be obtained here and you may as well be in London, Milan or Paris, as the vast majority of Shops seem to sell internationally higher-priced brands, as they cater for Chinese and Asian consumers overly besotted by designer goods to parade as status symbols. This reflects an unfortunate trend the world over, whereby regardless of what airport one is in, everything is becoming the same like a global Shopping Village. Luxury goods are more desirable if they are exclusive or unique to a given region. When luxury becomes multiple and freely available everywhere with precisely the same methodology of display, it leans on the side of ordinary. 

Anyhow, all the positives of Hong Kong's new airport mentioned above in addition to its well managed transportation access and connections are true to their word and much of the hype is warranted,. This said, in our humble objective Perpetual Traveller view, the airport is lacking a little soul and has a somewhat cold feel! There are preciously few reflections, touches or goods from Hong Kong itself within the Airport and on my last visit, I had to keep reminding myself where I was! 

So in a few words HKIA its a modern, futuristic, practical, fast paced, always open, slightly cold and a trifle soulless airport.

The long awaited Terminal 5 London Heathrow all British Airways extension to the world's busiest airport opened in 2008 with fanfare a mist baggage and organizational chaos. Things have settled down now however and even the most critical travelling Brit has to admit that Terminal 5 is a refreshing change. With spacious, stylish and modern lounges, advanced systems, processes and facilities, high ceilings (especially compared to terminal 1 , 2 and 3) and a surprisingly passenger friendly outlook Terminal 5 is a sea change from 

The only moan is the length of time it takes in transit due to the long immigration and security processes, which is the root cause of many travellers opting to avoid connections through the famously hassle guaranteed LHR. Additionally LHR charges on the nail for WiFi taking the same anti traveller stance of other similar European Airports, which really annoys the frequent travellers.

Considering that LHR is the worlds busiest airport, its somewhat surprising that there are still only 2 runways. The British Government have finally confirmed however that they will permit the development of a 3rd runway and a 6th terminal linked to a raft of sensible environmental measures and the obligation to operate a high speed train connection from Paddington to LHR direct. Despite this, a legal challenge is immediately expected along with staunch protests by environmentalists. Subsequently, building cannot commence just yet. Meanwhile, Paris CDG and Schiphol Amsterdam continue to expand without opposition, so LHR needs to hurry along if they want to maintain the desirable position of being the main hub or gateway to Europe and the worlds busiest airport.

Towards the end of 2008 the all Emirates dedicated airport termed "Terminal 3" opened much to the delight of the Emirates Skywards Gold members, as the Lounge facilities for First Class, Business and Gold card holders is nothing short of exceptional in terms of space, size, comfort, facilities, high staff / passenger ratio and overall passenger friendly amenities.

The facilities in the massive Lounge area located on the first floor encourage anyone with a long connection to upgrade. Apart from the expected, they feature an X.Box and hi-tech games area with the new Microsoft table interactive technology, several complimentary Buffet Restaurants and Bars operated to meticulous sanitation standards, a 24 hour SPA, Children Games room, numerous showers and amenities with extreme comfort. Another thing I liked were the little practical touches, such as the variety of seating types with easy plug connections, free WiFi throughout and a comprehensive selection of different ambiances each with its own feel. 

The Terminal itself like the Dubai International Terminal does not disappoint on the Shopping front either with 8000 Square Meters of retail space. Designed to feature a vast range of open / easy access Duty Free Shops 24 hours a day. All international brands are present blended with some quality local and regional products for good measure. Shopping is a national past-time in Dubai itself and all the airports of Dubai from the Perpetual Traveller Shoppers viewpoint comprise to offer the world's best airport Shopping experience with some great bargains to match. No wonder they average a revenue spending figure of around $68 USD for every single passenger that enters the transit area, make it to our knowledge the best sales performance of any airport from a retail perspective.

Terminal 3 is more slick and clean cut than the older adjacent airports with marble white and black floors, aerodynamic designs and bright lights. There's always a Pharmacy at hand regardless of what gate you are at and now that its open it has freed up Dubai International which was becoming over-crowded in the months leading to October 2008.

Asian airports dominate the world for quality, design, facilities, efficiency and overall passenger friendly services. 

As reported earlier, Hong Kong secured top position and Changi that has previously won the award and is a worthy competitor came in second place yet again. The airport of Seoul, Korea was third and Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Malaysia fourth. For many frequent passengers Changi should feature on the top depending upon how you measure what is best?

The main fear of Changi is living in the shadow of Hong Kong’s HKIA, by always coming second in the world’s best airport list. At Perpetual Traveller we like Changi how it is and we urge the authorities there simply to consolidate its identity and not to become another global village with the usual brands and d├ęcor, which are becoming dull and monotonous the world over. 

Changi is the ultimate passenger friendly airport with its own unique atmosphere, which reflects a local Singaporean hospitality and a sense of calm yet slick organization. It seems to achieve a sense of village feeling, for example over Christmas they exposed quality Carol singers to the public areas in order to warm the festive souls of travellers caught in the Christmas rush.

Shopping is extensive in Changi and highly competitive in price especially for electronics, though not with an aggressive approach like Dubai. In line with Hong Kong HKIA, Changi is an example to the world on how to design, build and operate an airport. 

You will notice that not one single airport of the Americas or Africa was mentioned in this report nor do any feature in the worlds top 10. This is a reflection of the lower quality and passenger satisfaction one can expect when in transit in these regions on the world. Clearly the airports of these continents need to get there act together and learn from essentially the Asians, who are the masters of airport design and operations. The Europeans are not so much better and only have Munich that consistently features in the top 5 or 6. We like LHR Terminal 5, which is a step in the right direction, but we cannot compliment Britons other airports and terminals to any pleasing degree. Athens, Venizelos, Franfurt, Schiphol Amsterdam, Viena, Zurich and Copenhagen all show promise in Europe, however each falters in either pricing, strike action, operations or unfriendliness.

Perpetual Traveller will feature more on Airports this year focusing on new openings, naming and shaming poorly operated terminals and giving updates on the positive developments.

Grant Holmes