Another Trip to the Airport
International air travel is not as much fun as it used to be. Passengers are spending more money on air fares and new service fees, and enjoying it less. Airlines don’t seem to be having much fun either, not to mention much profit.
Airframe. manufacturers and airlines have generally done a good job of improving the inflight environment, experience, equipment and entertainment, including (mostly) the food, at least for longer-haul international flights.
International airport terminals, by contrast, are no longer fun places to pass through. I’m not complaining about security arrangements or questioning their rationale, but the fact is that they add greatly to the hassle factor for frequent travelers.
Plus, some governments manage getting passengers through immigration and customs formalities much more efficiently than others. Some even manage a smile, or at least avoid the routine scowl-and-growl attitude.
U.S. airlines are leading the way at finding innovative new ways to generate revenue from passengers. Most now charge extra on domestic economy class flights for checked baggage; some now charge for carry-on baggage; most now charge for snacks, meals and drinks (US$7.00 for potato chips, anyone?); some charge for blankets and pillows (but you get to keep them); one is even considering a charge for using the toilet in flight. Some cynical pundits have questioned whether the next new charge will be to activate the oxygen bags which drop down in the event of an emergency.
I just returned from a business trip from Hong Kong to the U.S. and back. With the experience fresh in my mind, I think it’s worthy of comment that other airports and related government departments could do well to learn from Hong Kong’s efficiency.
Here, for example, is a time line on the morning of my recent departure from home in Hong Kong for flights to Tokyo and then connecting to Chicago’s O’Hare.
7:20 a.m. leave home in Hong Kong’s mid-levels area
7:30 a.m. stand in line (5 people in front of me) for a round trip ticket from the Airport Express Terminal in Central District to the airport (HK$180)
7:35 check in at Cathay Pacific counter in the Airport Express Terminal
7:40 on board Airport Express train as it departs station
7:55 train passes Hong Kong Disneyland station on Tung Chung Express rail line; then Yam O Bay, where high tide is lapping at the remaining stands of mangroves; the one-lane road between the train tracks and the sea is lined in places with pink oleander bushes and dotted with hikers, bikers, runners and fishermen; just before we reach the airport, a wooden shrimp trawler has its nets deployed a few hundred yards offshore
8:03 I exit the train as it arrives at the airport; signs and posters for a soon-to-open trade show in the expo hall next door featuring Indian Furniture, Fashion, Accessories, etc.
8:05 check out Page One bookstore, which features many books and periodicals not easily available elsewhere in China; and Fortress, where I buy an electrical adapter
8:10 I present my Hong Kong I.D. card and boarding pass as I enter “Passengers Only” area
8:15 exit the security screening process, having chosen from about 4-5 lines of roughly equal length (about ten people each); removing jacket, laptop and mobile phone (no need to remove shoes, belt, wallet, keys or loose change); security staff are either smiling or at least not scowling and growling
8:16 exit immigration formalities, having swiped my HK ID card and scanned my thumb print; off to last-minute shopping and waiting lounge
Observation: the total time elapsed from my arrival at the airport by train, to the completion of security and immigration formalities, was less than 15 minutes.
Now for the time line for the return leg of the journey, to show that the efficiency of Hong Kong’s airport that morning was not a fluke or an exception to the norm.
My Cathay Pacific flight from San Francisco arrived about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
6:10 a.m. exit the aircraft
6:12 visit the men’s room (sorry, but this detail has a material bearing on the time line)
6:20 immigration formalities completed; enter the baggage claim area
6:22 retrieve my bag from the carousel; proceed to customs clearance formalities; walk to Airport Express terminal
6:25 seated aboard the Airport Express train
6:30 train departs the airport station
Observation: total time elapsed from walking off the airplane, completing immigration formalities, claiming bag, clearing customs, and being seated on the moving train: 20 minutes.
6:55 exit train, and proceed to taxi queue
6:57 in taxi, heading home
7:05 arrive home
Observation: find me another major city in the world where you can reach home in the downtown area within less than one hour from the moment you walk off the aircraft on an inbound international flight
Conclusion: if there were an international airport Olympics, Hong Kong would be the team to beat.
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