Saturday, December 22, 2007

Passing Time at the Airport

I just got back to my hometown after a very long wait at the airport... before the actual plane ride.

Worried there might be a rush of travelers at the airport, I thought it would be a good idea to go earlier.

At first I was going to try out an airport bus, whose terminus is near my place. And at 16RMB, it beat the usual 60RMB by taxi.

However, with my luggage mostly laden with gifts, I barely made it out of my compound lugging it all and breaking out in a sweat.

I gave up and instead took a taxi waiting just outside my apartment gates.

"Why are you going so early?" he asked. I explained that I had wanted to try out the bus. "Oh so cheap!" he exclaimed. But I'm sure he soon realized he was lucky he was getting business from me instead of the bus.

There wasn't much traffic on the roads and I got to Beijing Capital Airport in good time.

The thing with this airport is that you have to fill out a declaration form, informing the authorities of what you are/aren't leaving with. And you have to fill this out even before you get to the check-in counter.

It asks if you're taking an weapons, 20,000RMB of cash, things for commercial purposes, and so on.

Then you take that form and passport and show it to an officer who only lets passengers in through a doorway. Another officer then takes the sheet of paper and yet another directs you to put hand luggage through an X-ray machine.

After all of that, then you are ready to actually go to the check-in counter.

When I got there, I was told my flight was delayed -- by six hours. I couldn't read the sign they had printed, only the time 23:30. I had nine hours to kill.

I don't think I would have been allowed to leave the airport by then and come back later. Maybe, but I didn't try.

So that explained why there were so many people sitting around. But there were no shops or cafes in the area so I decided to check-in anyway and go through passport control and security where I knew there were some shops.

I wandered up and down the boutiques. They ranged from high end Dunhill and Salvatore Ferragamo to shops called "Chinese Products" and the ubiquitous Olympic souvenir shop.

The Starbucks was doing brisk business as well as a gelato stand that served only a few flavours, repeating them so the selection was deceiving.

I bought a bottle of water for 15RMB (usually it's around 1RMB on the street) and settled down with a borrowed copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

What is neat is that around the gates there are free water dispensers. So I filled it up a few more times which was fantastic.

Also the handicapped washrooms are big enough to hold you and your belongings in a small cart.

Thank goodness for having a good book with me otherwise I won't know what I would have done to pass the time. The shops started closing at 8pm and they turned off their lights too so window shopping wasn't really an option either.

My airline (a national carrier) gave us each a meal coupon and at the gate offered sandwiches and drinks. They also gave us a small credit towards our next plane ticket with them.

We finally got on the flight and again thanks to having great reading material with me, I wouldn't know what else to do because the video on board wasn't working, flickering images here and there that made no sense.

So now I'm home safe and sound.

Beijing Airport's Terminal 3 will open in the next few months. While it will be much bigger than Terminal 1 and 2, there has to be better shops. Otherwise how else can people kill the time?


ks said...

flight delays are a reality of travel nowadays. earilier this month when we traveled to palms prings from vancouver it took us 12 hrs. our flight was supposed to leave vancouver 7 am. but it was snowing heavily and the incoming plane was late by 2 hours. when we arrived seattle we missed our connecting plane by just a few minutes. after rechecking to another flight there was 2 hrs wait. by the time we arrived palm springs it was 7 30 pm.

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