Ironing out the kinks at Beijing's new airport

When the new terminal of Beijing Airport first opened at the end of March, the general impression from visitors was that it was absolutely huge.

But maybe it's not big enough: author Han Song posted a photo-essay to his blog in which he compares the "T3" to a local train station: overcrowded and chaotic with not enough seating space and lines that go on forever. He's also got some interesting observations on the new terminal's anti-terrorist techniques.

The capital airport's new terminal is like county train station

by Han Song

The capital airport's new terminal (T3), constructed for the Olympics, has a futuristic style to it like something out of Heinlein's science fiction. But upon entering, it's like a county train station, and its waiting areas aren't even as convenient as those in a county train station. Lots of people were sitting on the floor or on top of their luggage. I stood in line for my boarding pass, and halfway to the front the ticket counter attendant said that the machine was broken. So I switched to another line, and waited from 2:20 to 3:20 pm before I got my boarding pass. People walked back at forth like it was market day. There was someone holding a megaphone and shouting, and there were blackboards on the scene, too.


New regulations strictly limiting carry-on items to one small bag were in effect. Security inspectors were in full force, as if facing a great enemy, and their faces were stern: "Have a computer? Out with it!" I suggested that with Beijing about to host the Olympics, they should say "please" to passengers. She smiled at me strangely. Oh, this was on 3 May, and on 4 May the Olympic torch would begin its route on the Chinese mainland.


"We are sorry to inform you...." echoed throughout the waiting area. Of course, the flight we chose on Air China was late too, and also for "weather-related reasons (but we had called the information hotline earlier and the airport's reply was "so long as there's no fog, it will depart on time"). There were arguments at pretty much every counter that had Air China staff.


So it was a good opportunity to take a look at the new Air China terminal. My overall impression was bedazzlement. There was Olympic memorabilia everywhere. The salespeople wore red track uniforms, reminiscent of the joggers protecting the torch. And there were Fuwa made up as Chairman Mao badges or Sakyamuni statues. This touched me deeply, and I raised my camera wanting to take a photo, but immediately a "jogging torch protector" rushed over and barked at me to stop.


The plane was still delayed, and everyone was thirsty, so they lined up at the shops to buy drinks and snacks. So I wonder if perhaps Air China's ban on passengers taking their own drinks on the plane was intended to stimulate the airport's internal business (I noticed that the water dispensers in the airport had only an image of a dripping faucet; it seemed intentional that they did not say whether it was drinking water. At least my own sense was that it was for washing dirty hands). I too joined the group in line and for 5 yuan bought a soda that sold for 3 outside. Seeing how lively their internal business was, I got out my camera again so I could report back to the leaders. But unexpectedly, a "jogging torch protector" rushed over again and stopped me with a very severe expression on his face. I knew that I was in the wrong, because this was necessary for anti-terrorism. Who could judge that I wasn't a spy with the East Turkestan movement? If I photographed the details of the new terminal and sent them to my terrorist organization and then when the time came, brought a bomb back, there'd be trouble for the Beijing Olympics.

By 7:00, there was still no sign of the plane, which was scheduled to depart at 4:00. No answers were forthcoming from Information. The last announcement broadcast said that we could use our boarding passes to get a free box meal and a drink. But it was only repeated twice in Chinese, as if testing the HSK levels of the foreigners waiting for the plane. "'ll hear 'Nunchucks' once, but 'Chrysanthemum Flower Bed' only once."

The whole time, the airport was wrapped up in a state of uncertainty, like in particle 10:00 pm, the electronic message board showed that the flight had been canceled. My friend saw this and went to inquire of one of the staff, who replied convincingly: you'll fly by 10:30. When we informed him that it had already been canceled, he said, oh, really? Then go by what it says on the screen. That day, from the afternoon until nighttime, there were at least 12 flights canceled at the new terminal, but not one of them was broadcast over the loudspeaker, and no one ever gave a reason. Those foreigners, sitting there in a daze, were even more confused. They all looked like Carrefour employees.


So we went out through the security passage and returned to the main hall, where we saw several hundred people clustered trying to return their tickets, another crowd of several hundred trying to alter them, and yet another crowd of several hundred clustered waiting for their checked baggage to be returned. The passengers murmured: "We can understand the weather, but we can't understand Air China's service attitude!" One passenger nearly started a fight. Air China did not arrange for transportation, nor did it arrange for lodging. Our entourage included CPPCC members and leaders, who were all anxious. The airport manager suddenly became aware of this, and said, "Our leaders are CPPCC members! Aren't you going to XX? If you don't mind waiting, I'll put you on another flight!" (It turns out that the director and vice-director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China are both CPPCC members.) So he took us to another place where he quietly altered our tickets, and said, "I've fulfilled my responsibility."


We went back through security. The water provided by the airport and the restaurant was taken away, but the bottle of soda I bought (half-drunk) went through with no problem, and I ultimately took it on the plane. I thought, if I were a terrorist, and if the bottle were filled with gasoline...

The plane, one with lots of empty seats, landed at our destination at 1:00 am. I read an article titled "Civil Aviation Declaration: A Full Guarantee to Meet the Olympic Games" in Wings of China during the flight, while I also thought about a science fiction topic: if our flight was canceled because of weather, then why was this plane in the air? Was there an observer that collapsed the Heisenberg wave function? And then as we waited for our checked baggage afterward, there was no sign of it. We inquired, and learned that none of our luggage was on the flight (when we were changing our tickets the manager said that it would definitely be with us on the flight). Because all of our documents were in our luggage, we couldn't hold the meeting the next day.

The itinerary for the 4th had to be changed to a full day of tourism. The CPPCC office kept calling the CAAC asking them to help locate "the CPPCC members' luggage." The leaders were very concerned and promised to do so immediately. Finally, the luggage returned to our hands at nearly 1 am on the 5th.

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There are currently 8 Comments for Ironing out the kinks at Beijing's new airport.

Comments on Ironing out the kinks at Beijing's new airport

This post is spot-on. There's also no seating outside, only a wide swath of cement littered with butts. People spread out flattened cardboard boxes, just like the good old days at Beijing Zhan. If you have an international flight, be sure to get through security to make the train and customs processing -- but get that Starbucks sandwich or coffee before leaving the check-in area, as there isn't one inside. China Southern (Terminal 1) and Hainan Air (Terminal 2) have a new customer after my two T3 experiences! Both terminals are less crowded and a short walk from the taxi/bus queue.

Apparently there was an earthquake just moments ago in Beijing? How did I not feel it?

Also, you have this really modern terminal, but the Chinese airlines there (at least my two) do not take foreign credit cards.

Sounds like you had a nightmare. I read in The Economist that Beijing is already planning to open a second airport because the new terminal will reach capacity ahead of time.

I'm a expat English teacher in Tianjin and I made a comparision of Beijing Terminal 3, Tianjin's new airport and Heathrow Terminal 5.

Check out: New airport comparison

"Because all of our documents were in our luggage, we couldn't hold the meeting the next day [and so t]he itinerary for the 4th had to be changed to a full day of tourism."

seriously though, who leaves important documents in their *checked* luggage?

and since when does the CPPCC need documents to rubber-stamp its pre-approved advisory opinions?

"Air China's ban on passengers taking their own drinks on the plane was intended to stimulate the airport's internal business"

the ban was released by CAAC,not Air China's own regulation. Are u nuts?

A lot of the problems don't seem to be teething problems with the new airport, just regular mess ups by staff.

BJ and HK both by Norman Foster. HK has carpets in the gateside waiting area, while BJ has tile. Considering carpet needs more attention, probably was right decision to have tile for BJ, but makes for a noisier and harder environment.

> carpet needs more attention

Heaven forbid the airport have to buy a vacuum cleaner.

I miss carpet.

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