02
Mar
2008

Think Big: Terminal 3, Beijing Airport

“New Commencement.” OK, I guess that might or might not be Chinglish. And yes, every time I’m on a new escalator at Beijing’s flashy new airport terminal — T3 as it’s known in quickspeak, I smile back at the inanimate Chinglish sticker warning me to take care of children and “oldster”s. But there’s no real trace of that ever-to-be-loathed-excuse-of-a-font, Arial, and the sheer — yes, at that, sheer — of the new terminal, was enough to get me talking to myself (quite literally) for the first 30 minutes in the new terminal building. Beijing had done the impossible. Again.

When Apple released the Power Mac G4 Cube in 2000, Lee Clow from TBWA/Chiat Day instantly uttered, “Holy s***, they’ve done it again.” (It was good enough to be featured in an Apple promo video, by the way.) David Feng wishes to re-utter those same words from Lee Clow as he shows you around the new T3.

Holy whatever-it-may-be, Beijing has done it again.

Terminal 3: Already Out On Those Big Signposts

If you’ve taken a cruise down the Airport Freeway, signposts literally yell out to you about the presence of the new jumbo terminal, the World’s biggest single terminal building at that. Terminal 3, or T3 for short, is just about everywhere these days: in the papers (even on the People’s Daily), on CNN’s news ticker, and just about everywhere else you can imagine.

Once you get to the new T3 (by means of a massive Airport South Freeway and an even more massive toll plaza just outside of T3), you are reminded that the guys in power back in 1949 stuck the world People’s in the name of this nation. This thing is designed for people — or what the Chinglish may call, people mountain people sea.

If you think this is massive today, though, you’re historically wrong — looking forward. The current T1, T2 and T3 complex will be good through 2015 only. That’s why they’re already thinking of a second international airport for the capital of the People’s Republic of China!

Inside T3

But we digress. We’re back in the newest terminal of the first (and at that, the only) international airport in Beijing. Inside what is probably the newest and coolest of all things — made to this day.

Take, for example, the new part of the airport linking straight with the Airport Express, soon to be part of the Beijing Subway network. The design of the entire terminus lightens up your day; sunlight is allowed virtually unfettered access into the new building. This is big, by the way, because for the longest time possible, we were restrained to underground subway stations as well as their more poorly-lit variants above ground (Shaoyaoju station on Line 13 seems especially badly lit). Also, Terminal 2 was never one for unrestrained accés de soleil, and that was even less the case with the boxy Terminal 1. (If you’ve spent ice ages waiting for someone in the less-than-well-lit Arrivals hall in Terminal 2, this should be too familiar to you.)

The new T3′s Airport Express part is seamlessly connected with the airport’s arrival and departure halls, as well as the parking lots. The whole thing was built as one; you can hardly tell you’re in a separate part of the terminal. For those of you who’ve seen the difference between the 1980s part of Chongwenmen Subway station (which belongs to Line 2) and the glitzier 2007 part (Line 5 heaven), you know what I’m talking about.

Arrivals: No Longer Cramped for Space

Enter the new arrival hall, and you encounter a very different arrival hall than the rather cramped on a la Terminal 2. The hall curves out gently, and you get to pick up your guests from three areas (to reduce the chance that everyone will come out at one solitary exit area). Meanwhile, massive LCD TVs are there to reduce your chances that you’ll be twiddling your thumbs, and the presence of plants and art (yes, art, at that) makes your wait that bit more — natural.

Ever had to jump between the arrival and departure halls? In Terminal 2, it’s a case of going through poorly-lit back corridors, up staircases, and around sharp turns. In Terminal 3, four escalators bring you from one hall to the other, and lifts, too, do their bit in bringing you up — or down.

There’s probably not much you can see in the arrivals hall — the Baggage Claim everything inside are accessible to those only on an incoming flight — but judging from what I’ve seen (as in the bits open to the general public), they (as in the bits more “inside”) should be pretty good, too.

Departures: Massive

If the arrival hall was a case of you no longer running out of space, your breath will be forever taken away with the new departure hall, which is simply the biggest departure hall on earth (well OK, maybe on part with that at Hong Kong International Airport).

Check-in for international travellers (or those heading to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), previously something reserved for travellers inside the restricted area only, is now available to the public, much like the case in Zurich, Hong Kong, and just about everywhere. The whole layout has the word logical written all over it; you find your aisle, check in your bags, say goodbye to your friends and loved ones, and then head inside the secured part of the airport.

Meanwhile, for those interested in seeing planes take off, taxi or land, there’s a relatively big part of the departure hall open for spectators (under the same roof). And the food — we’ve Burger King, Starbucks, just about everything you can think of.

(Maybe except for Swiss sausage. David’s favorite.)

All In All: The Eighth Wonder of the World

Hong Kong International Airport, be very afraid. The new T3 simply packs in too much oomph and punch to not think of beating any other terminal building.

Now what’s missing, of course, are the little things. Optimized English. Universally accessible free wifi (the lady at the inquiries counter said it was available only in the restricted part of the airport). And, of course, Swiss food.

For that big of real Switzerland inside China.

Craving for more out of the new T3? David hears you. A full report is waiting for you on the Beijingology Notebook.

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