Category Archives: Asia

When little airports grow up, they become…: Hong Kong International, Terminal 1

Did you miss me? Well I’m back!

It has definitely been a while since my last post. Don’t worry, I didn’t run out of interesting airport stories, but l did run out of time.. As a little treat, you’ll get a whopper of an airport reviewed now: Hong Kong.

I guess everyone has heard of the dangerous, yet spectacular approach at the old Hong Kong International airport (commonly known as Kai Tak Airport). I personally experienced two landings there back in 1991 where my window seat proved to be the best allocation ever. It was simply spectacular!

So, the first time I flew into the then known, newly built airport, Chek Lap Kok (赤鱲角機場), I was quite disappointed as l didn’t get any of that great view l remembered. However, on a recent trip to Hong Kong we flew over this magnificent city with a perfect view of the spectacular Victoria Harbour and all of Kowloon! My tip is – try to sit on the right hand side of the aircraft and chances are good you’ll get the “wow factor” on your next approach to Hong Kong International Airport (as it is known today).

On the ground, terminal 1 is the flagship building and home of Cathay Pacific and it’s code share partners including British Airways. Overall, the airport is very spacious and the check-in hall reminded me of Kuala Lumpur, which is similarly generous in terms of space.

Before you pass security you have a good selection of stores (Wing Wah, Newslink, Canton Market, Kee Wah Bakery, Toys & Games, Okashi land, Ying King tea house, etc.) and restaurants (Popeyes, Fairfood and Maxim’s upstairs).

After security the airport is split into 2 levels, upstairs you’ll find a food court, a few shops and a multimedia lounge with free internet plus more stores downstairs.

My must-check-out- things are:

  • Aji Ichiban on the North side of the terminal. Go crazy and buy from their funny, sometimes strange selection of Asian and Western sweet and savoury snacks. A perfect surprise for a co-worker or friend
  • Check out the big spenders in the posh shops (Tiffany’s, Chanel, Hermes,, etc.) on the lower level
  • Indulge on one of the seasonal Latte’s at Starbucks opposite Gate 20
  • Stock up your travel care gear at the “Travel Care Express” store after gate 27
  • Go on a hunt for the Airbus A380. Yes, you should be able to see one as Singapore Airlines flies them between Hong Kong and Singapore. (For a video of the first A380 I spotted a while back in Hong Kong, click here).
  • Lastly, send a few emails from your iPhone through the free WiFi connection throughout the airport

Airport Facts and Ratings

Airport Name Hong Kong International Airport
Design Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Shopping Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Toilets Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Overall Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Chanel No 5 Eau de Parfum, 100ml at the Duty Free Shop HKD 950 (£73.40)
Bottle of Veuve Cliquot at the Duty Free Shop HKD 450 (£34.75)

[Picture from Hong Kong International Airport’s official website]

Hello Kitty, hello Taipei International Airport

Have you ever seen an entire departure gate transformed to a popular children’s brand theme? No? Then you haven’t been to Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport airport – terminal 2.

When you get dropped off from the busy streets of Taipei at Taiwan’s largest, international airport (IATA: TPE) (traditional Chinese: 臺灣桃園國際機場; simplified Chinese: 台湾桃园国际机场), you expect a very crowded scene, but when I was there on a regular Thursday evening, the airport was surprisingly quiet. Who knows, maybe the large check-in hall and the usual Asian way of building airports for the future (read: big) might have deceived my senses as my flight to Hong Kong was full to the last seat.

After the equally quick security check (luckily the stupid liquid restriction hasn’t arrived in Taiwan yet), you end up in an area between two main arms to the right and left containing all the departure gates.

I first walked left to the A & D gates where I discovered an art exhibition of Chinese (errr, probably Taiwanese) hats painted by children from the “Taoyuan County Sinpo Elementary School” followed by a good selection of shops and a rich media & internet access lounge (close to gate D2).
On my way back to the other arm of gates (B/C gates) I stumbled onto an interesting nursery room. It was turned into the Hello Kitty theme. This surely is a nice alternative to the usual dull, grey rooms provided by airports (don’t worry, I’m not going to become a nursery room expert any time soon though…).

The B/C arm overall is nicer than its sister on the other side as it appears to have been renovated. However, it contains a similar selection of shops. Mind you, there is one really big reason to visit this side of the airport: gate C3. Yes, that’s the Hello Kitty gate with an adjacent shop. See this blog’s picture for an impression of what awaits you there (or our previous cover of the gate earlier this year). How cool is that? But the climax was that my flight actually departed from this gate. Fear not, you don’t have to dress up for boarding although the atmosphere does lend itself to silly, childish fun! Travellers seemed delighted, they smiled, laughed and took photos. What else could you want in a usually stressful environment like an airport?

Overall, if you have some time to kill at the Taipei airport terminal 2, here are my favourites:

  1. Buy some authentic Taiwanese Oolong tea from one of several “Hsin Tung Yang” shops (e.g. close to gate D4)
  2. Visit the pharmacy and beauty store for your last minute travel needs (close to gate C4)
  3. Buy the latest gadgets from the Electronics store (there is one on either gates side)
  4. Play a round of Xbox games at the Chimei rich media & internet access lounge (more mature travellers might divert to checking their emails)
  5. Speaking of emails, WiFi is free throughout the airport, so download your latest episodes of Britain’s next Top Model on to your iPhones
  6. Purchase the latest sports gear at the 3 adjacent sports stores Adidas, Nike and Puma on the C/D gates side
  7. Lastly, a must see, check out the Hello Kitty gate C3 (as mentioned above)

Airport Facts and Ratings

Airport Name Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport airport
Design Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Shopping Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Toilets Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Overall Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Chanel No 5 Eau de Parfum, 100ml at the Duty Free Shop TWD 4,030 (£74.65)
Bottle of Veuve Cliquot at the Duty Free Shop TWD 2,300 (£42.60)

[Picture from LateDeparture – all rights reserved]

Incheon International Airport voted the World’s Best Airport

Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea (Korean: 인천국제공항, IATA: ICN) has been named Best Airport in the world, in the passenger survey results released today by Skytrax, a UK-based aviation research organisation with more than 8.2 million questionnaires completed by passengers across the world, during the 10 month survey period. Skytrax wrote on their website today that

Incheon is an airport that has been in the global top 5 ranking for the World Airport Awards during the past 5-6 years, and it is a great achievement for them to secure this premier mark of customer satisfaction.

Second best airport in this year’s ranking came last year’s winner, Hong Kong International Airport followed by Singapore’s Changi airport. fully reviewed three of the top ten airports and will publish the Munich review next week (click on the links below to read the reviews) :

  1. Incheon International Airport
  2. Hong Kong International Airport
  3. Singapore Changi
  4. Zurich
  5. Munich
  6. Kansai
  7. Kuala Lumpur
  8. Amsterdam
  9. Centrair Nagoya
  10. Auckland

Best European Airport went to Zurich which overtook Munich’s lead from last year. In North American the award went to Dallas/Fort Worth. Other regional winners were Tel Aviv for the Middle East, Auckland for the Pacific region, Cape Town for Africa, Panama for Central America and Lima for South America.

The World Airport Awards are based on the results from 8.6 million questionnaires completed by airline passengers in 2008/9, covering more than 190 airports worldwide. The survey evaluates traveller experiences across 39 different airport service and product factors –  from check-in, arrivals, transfer through to departure at the gate.

Congratulations to Incheon; I guess I will have to schedule a trip to Seoul soon to provide my loyal readers with my own verdict. Any sponsors? 😉

[Picture from Wikipedia]

How the swine flu affects your travels

Today, the WHO classified the swine influenza A (H1N1) outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern.” And while more cases of swine flu were confirmed on Monday in the United States, Canada and Europe (Update: Britain is now also directly affected with one case), country organizations began to take actions, particularly by preventing and monitoring travellers to and from their countries.

Furthermore, financial markets have already “penalized” Mexican airports whose shares traded substiantially lower today: The airport owners are among the “most vulnerable” stocks amid the flu outbreak, UBS AG analysts wrote in a note today in which they cut Mexican equities to “underweight” writes Bloomberg.

It’s pretty clear that this latest threat of an influenza pandemic is going to have further implications on the economy. But how does it affect travellers? Various countries have already tightened their airport checks. Australia, for example, has trained airport staff to spot people with flu like symptoms. According to an article any passengers with flu-like symptoms would be met by quarantine officers. In addition, all incoming international flights would have to make an onboard announcement telling passengers to seek immediate medical advice if they felt unwell with flu symptoms.

Hong Kong, the epicenter of a SARS outbreak six years ago, announced some of the toughest measures anywhere on Sunday in response to a swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the United States, reports The New York Times.

So, what should you do if you are travelling to or from North America in the near future? Here is some advice:

  1. Travelling to Mexico: in general it’s probably safe to say that if you can postpone your trip, then do so, otherwise check your countries latest travel advice (the UK foreign office’s one can be found here, Germany’s here, Ireland’s here, the USA’s here and Canada’s here). If you decide to go, then do make sure you check with your airline if the flight is still leaving as today several charter airlines (e.g. TUI in Germany) have cancelled their flights to Mexico.
  2. Travelling from Mexico: be aware of extra precautions at Mexican and foreign airports. Prepare for additional screenings and questioning. Check your destinations country latest immigration advice. Your airline or travel agency should be able to help you.
  3. Travelling to/from other North American destinations: expect delays at the airports due to tightened security and passenger screenings. Check with your local airline for the latest uptodate travel information.

[Picture from Flickr – some rights reserved]

Spacious Kuala Lumpur International Airport

Last week my thirst for travelling frequently as far as possible brought me to Kuala Lumpur where I visited a Swiss friend of mine who recently migrated to Malaysia for work love. I have never been to Malaysia before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Surely, I’ve heard good things, particularly about the countries diving and its capital, Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is referred to by nearly everyone. While my limited time didn’t allow for checking out any of the diving, I did have a good look around Malaysia’s biggest city and of course the airport – Kuala Lumpur International Airport, or KLIA (IATA: KUL) in short.

As most of the Asian airports I have experienced so far, KLIA was built for the future with plenty of space meaning you feel relaxed from the moment you arrive. But relaxation actually starts even earlier: the Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines hub is very well connected with the city centre by an express train which only takes 28 minutes non-stop. This also means, that even if you are just stopping-over for a few hours, it may make sense to quickly get into the city and see the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers or have a bite to eat at one of the many Indian or Thai influenced eateries around the city.

In terms of what you can do within the airport, there are quite a few options. After passing the passport checks and the security, you will find yourself in the terminal which mainly serves domestic flights. All international flights leave from the C gates which you reach through a short ride with the Aerotrain. Don’t bother checking out the shops before you get to the C gates as there are only a few there. You are a lot better off taking the shuttle immediately and spend your time in the satellite terminal.

There, I’m sure you will be pleased shocked to hear, they even have a Harrod’s store. I have always thought this was a typical London thing, but apparently not. Great weird. Besides that, you will find the usual shops including a Starbucks (on the first floor), Bodyshop, Mango and Versace stores. My top suggestions to kill some time, however, are:

  • Check out the rather nice architecture of the satellite terminal (see picture above)
  • Grab a final Carlsberg beer at the Forrestier bar and reflect on your trip to Malaysia
  • Read your emails at one of the free Internet terminals (before gates C31,33 and C21,23)
  • Visit the “Made in Malaysia” store and find the most ridiculous souvenirs – who could you surprise with one of them?
  • Try to find a bottle of Veuve Clicquot for‘s price comparison (I couldn’t find one!)


Airport Facts and Ratings

Airport Name Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Design Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Shopping Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Toilets Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Overall Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Plane Award Point
Chanel No 5 Eau de Parfum, 100ml at the Duty Free Shop MYR 432.00 (£77.80)
Bottle of Veuve Cliquot at the Duty Free Shop n/a


[Picture from Flickrsome rights reserved]

Hello 2009 – Hello Kitty Lounge

Well, nothing is impossible and that definitely holds true for Asia: Terminal 2 of Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport (IATA: TPE) features a full-blown Hello Kitty Lounge with adjacent – wait for it – Hello Kitty souvenir shop. Apparently you can even board some planes directly from the lounge. I guess one of these planes here. Up to you now to decide whether that’s a great sign of what we can expect at airports in 2009 or not…

[Original Post from the Hello Kitty Gifts Blog]

2008 Top 10 Airport News

I am sure you agree that 2008 has been a very difficult eventful year. This also holds also true for the aviation industry as our selection of the top 10 news stories about airports shows:

10. London Stansted blockade
London Stansted Airport
Early December environmental activists have stopped flights at London’s Stansted airport (IATA: STN) after breaking through to the runway, raising security concerns at Britain’s third-busiest airport. The protests against a further expansion of the airport caused a serious knock-on effect on the airport’s flight operations causing over 50 flights to be cancelled.

9. Opening of Beijing airport Terminal 3
Beijing Airport Terminal 3
On March 26, Beijing airport (IATA: PEK) opened its new Terminal 3, designed by Sir Norman Foster, after four years of construction. It is the world’s largest airport building, covering more than a million square meters, designed to accommodate an estimated 50 million passengers a year by 2020.

8. Closure of Berlin’s iconic Tempelhof airport
Berlin's Tempelhof Airport shut for good
Open one, close one; on the October 30, Berlin’s iconic Tempelhof airport closed down for good. Originally opened in 1923, the later built airport halls and neighbouring buildings, intended to become the gateway to Europe and a symbol of Hitler’s “world capital” Germania. Read our full coverage here.

7. Kalitta Air crash at Brussels airport
Brussels Airport Cargo Plane Crash
On Sunday, 25 May a Boeing 747 cargo plane overshot the runway at Brussels Zaventem airport (IATA: BRU) and crashed resulting the aircraft to break into 2 parts. The spectacular picture made the news everywhere.

6. Frightening landing at Hamburg’s airport

A low pressure system named “Emma” nearly caused a disaster at Hamburg airport (IATA: HAM) in March. The Lufthansa A320 plane struggled to make the runway through 90 kilometre-per-hour crosswinds resulting in the 39 year old pilots last minute go-around procedure and a safe second attempt. The frightening approach was caught on camera and is an extraordinary piece which will now probably be used all over the world in pilot training classrooms.

5. Hong Kong wins ‘Airport of the Year’ award
Hong Kong International Airport
In July Hong Kong International airport (IATA: HKG) was named best Airport in the world, in the passenger survey results released by Skytrax. Despite being “only” rated in 5th place in the most-timely airport survey, Hong Kong received the prestigious award after Skytrax collected 8.2 million questionnaires completed by passengers over a 10-month time period. Read our congratulating article here.

4. Spanair crash at Madrid airport
Madrid Airport Spanair crash
A combination of basic pilot error and an electrical failure was the possible cause of the crash of a Spanair plane at Madrid’s Barajas airport (IATA: MAD) on 20 August that killed 154 people. The airport was closed for several hours after the accident.

3. Radar malfunction at Dublin airport
Dublin\'s airport problem with its radar system
In the midst of the summer holiday season, Dublin airport (IATA: DUB) made the news with its malfunctioning radar system which meant that controllers lost some functionality on their screens meaning they were unable to see the labels attached to ‘blips’ that signify individual aircraft. The problem resulted in massive delays and many cancellations over several days.

2. Bangkok blockade
Bangkok airport blockade
Protesters supporting the People’s Alliance for Democracy stormed Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (IATA: BKK) in late November, occupying the departure lounge and blocking all exits. With that 3,000 people were stranded within the airport and another 350,000 were stranded within Thailand. Read our interview with an affected traveller.

1. Chaos at London Heathrow’s new Terminal 5
London Heathrow Terminal 5
In March BAA, the company that owns Heathrow airport, opened its newest addition of what should have been a proud event for London’s most criticised airport. Instead, the opening resulted in a PR disaster with BAA losing thousands of bags over several months. The event then became one of the triggers leading to the demands of breaking up BAA’s monopolistic ownership of airports in the UK.

[Pictures from Flickr – some rights are reserved: London Stansted, Beijing, Berlin Tempelhof, Brussels airport, Hong Kong, Madrid, Dublin, Bangkok, London Heathrow

Bangkok airport blockade: Interview with stranded traveller

About three weeks ago, protesters supporting the People’s Alliance for Democracy stormed Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport (IATA: BKK), occupying the departure lounge and blocking all exits. With that 3,000 people were stranded within the airport and another 350,000 were stranded within Thailand. One of them, Markus, a friend of mine on holiday in Thailand. After an additional 9 days in Thailand, he finally returned last Sunday. was able to speak with him about his experience:

Tom for When was your original flight back planned for?

Markus: Our original flight was scheduled for Friday November 28th with Emirates via Dubai to Munich. At the end we flew on Sunday December 7th with Lufthansa to Frankfurt – a short delay of nine days.

That sounds terrible, what had happened?

Three days before our original flight anti-government protestors (the yellow shirts from People’s Alliance for Democracy) took over Bangkok’s international airport. One day later they occupied Bangkok’s domestic airport too. So Bangkok was blocked from international air traffic and we were stranded in Thailand. After the Constitution Court ruled on December 2nd to disband the three ruling parties in the coalition government the protestors gave up the airport blockade and since December 6th the airport reopened for international flights.

Did you actually get stuck at the airport?

No, when we arrived in Bangkok it was impossible to go to the airport already.

How did you then spend the days waiting for your flight back?

After we realized that it will take some days to get out of Thailand (we also checked alternatives like flying form Malaysia or Singapore) we spent some relaxing days on Ko Chang Island waiting for news. When the protestors left the airport we went back to Bangkok and hoped for a reopening of the airport. The last three days we spend in a luxury hotel in Bangkok which was paid for by the Thai government. We also spent many hours waiting in the Emirates office waiting for news and searching for alternative flights. This was the most annoying part as the Emirates stuff was quite overstrained so that we got different information each day.

How did you then manage to get a flight back home?

As Emirates was one of the few airlines which didn’t operate from alternative airports and which didn’t send extra planes during the blockade (e.g. Lufthansa operated their Bangkok flights from Phuket and Air Berlin operated from the formerly military airbase Utapao) we still had no return flight after the Bangkok airport reopened on December 5th. Emirates just told us that they will call us within the next days. So we went to the Lufthansa office and got ourselves a return flight to Frankfurt. Probably a good decision as we had the impression that only Emirates passengers were still stranded in Bangkok when we left (especially in our hotel).

Was that at least a pleasant experience on the way out? I bet the airport must have been croinwded still, right?

As most airlines had the extra flights from other airports the Bangkok airport was not crowded at all when we flew back. Also there were no other signs showing the airport was closed for more than a week when we arrived at the airport.

Did you discover anything specially great or annoying about Bangkok airport?

The Bangkok airport is quite modern with a lot of opportunities to spend some hours.

Do you think this event changed how the airport operates?

I think this event won’t have any influence on the way the airport operates but the event will have a big influence on tourism in Thailand next year.

Thank you for your time answering my questions!

You are welcome.

[Picture from BBC]