If you’ve been anywhere near an airport recently, you’ll know that travelling with the rest of migrating humanity can be a stressful experience at the best of times.
But it is quite often a different story at Asia’s gateways, which are often admired as sanctuaries where weary travellers can enjoy some R&R.
Whether you are doing a few laps in the rooftop pool at Singapore’s Changi Airport or soaking up (real) rainforest views at Kuala Lumpur international airport, there is always something to write home about at Asian hubs.
Airports in Asia are also consistently ranked at the top of the airport league tables for customer service.
Seoul’s Incheon airport in South Korea was this week crowned the “Best Airport Worldwide” for the sixth consecutive year in the airport service quality survey (ASQ) – an initiative by Airports Council International (ACI), the body representing the world’s airports.
The results were based on feedback from over 300,000 passenger surveys at 153 participating airports. Marks were given based on criteria ranging from general ambience, cleanliness, check-in efficiency and courtesy of staff, to clear signage, availability of facilities and comfortable waiting areas.
It was airports in Asia that were all featured in the top five “Best Airports Worldwide” category, with Singapore Changi airport taking second place, followed by Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital International and Shanghai Pudong International airports.
What are the secrets of their success? TERMINAL U takes a look at the world’s five best airports according to ACI and how they are putting the pleasure back into flying.
1. Seoul’s Incheon Airport, South Korea
If you want to know the hallmarks of a great airport, come to South Korea’s Incheon International, which is a world away from ageing terminals and long snaking queues.
Just over 25 million passengers pass through this state-of-the-art, efficient transportation hub every year. The only smells coming from the bustling terminal are the aromas wafting from the real orchids sprucing up the terminal areas.
The airport is well-equipped for all manner of travellers. Business trippers can breathe a sigh of relief as there is free Wi-fi access here for everyone, while transit passengers needing to acclimatise from the lack of oxygen on the plane might enjoy an amble in one of the airport’s spectacular gardens, be it the Pine Tree Garden (Millennium Hall, 1F, Passenger Terminal), Cactus Garden (Welcoming Hall, 1F, Passenger Terminal) or Water Garden (Welcoming Hall, 1F, Passenger Terminal, 5 locations) – to name just a few.
Amenity-wise, there is truly something for everyone. Luxury shopping experiences await with designer brand names including Louis Vitton and the gateway is also home to a golf-course, spa, nearby casino and the “AirStar Terrace” (Terminal 4F), an observation deck offering sweeping panoramic views out onto the airfield and a place to relax.
Forget tacky tourist shops too, as Incheon boasts a “Traditional Cultural Experience Centre” (Center, 4F, Concourse), where waiting passengers can try out free hands-on traditional craft programmes – including fan painting, knot-making and hanji (Korean traditional paper) box making.
2. Changi Airport, Singapore
Lying in the tropical heat of Singapore, Changi airport is a hugely popular transit hub where passengers can catch some rays by the rooftop pool with a cocktail in-hand, or simply relax with a coffee under the palm-fringed trees.
But of course there is much more to Changi than its sunny location. The airport is hot on amenities and there are plenty of novel things to do here.
3. Hong Kong International Airport
Hong Kong International airport has created its own micro city, away from the frenetic pace of life in Mainland China.
The gateway has a buzzing entertainment scene with free attractions, including a 4D Extreme Screen, where visitors can enjoy special effects on the big screen, a dedicated Playstation gaming area and family cinema.
There is also an Aviation Discovery Centre (ADC), with attractions including a cockpit simulator and full-motion plane-cabin ride simulator.
For the more active visitors, i-sports is a fun place in the airport, with sports simulators allowing groups to have a go at football, basketball, golf, boxing, skiing, or car racing. Plus, golfers can practice their swing at SkyCity Nine Eagles Golf Course at the airport, nearby Terminal 2.
4. Beijing Capital International Airport
Despite being one of the world’s most congested airports, handling more than 70 million passengers every year, Beijing Capital’s sparkling new Terminal 3 has quite literally got space down to a T, as it was built to handle passenger volumes on another scale.
It is just as well, as China is expected to be the biggest contributer to the growth in international air travel in the future.
Beijing Capital’s Terminal 3, a sleek, modern and efficient part of the overall airport experience, was built just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and therefore with efficiency and status in mind.
As well as claiming the title of the world’s second largest terminal (after Dubai), Beijing Capital’s Terminal 3 has its own Airport Express Line whisking passengers to and from the city centre in just 20 minutes.
The airport has also thought of little extras for passengers, such as the free mobile charging power outlets scattered around the terminal.
5. Shanghai Pudong International Airport
While China’s culture has been built on entirely different references to western society, Shanghai Pudong International could lie anywhere in the West – from its big designer shopping labels through to its striking modern design.
The gateway offers passengers a breeze-through experience, particularly for those taking the lightning-fast Maglev train at the airport, which travels to Shanghai, China’s economic capital in just under 8 minutes – covering a distance of 30kms.