Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Analysis of Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong International Airport is one of the top 10 busiest airports in the world, and possibly one of the best as well. Actually, this is the second time I am passing through Hong Kong International Airport, with the first time five years ago. The biggest change since then is the opening of Terminal 2. Thankfully, the changes do not include lost in service quality or increase in queue times.

I hope this blog post will help you enjoy the airport better, and maybe even decide where to make your transit!

Hong Kong International Airport in a nutshell

Hong Kong International Airport is also known as Chek Lap Kok Airport, and is located about 40km from the City Center. The Airport is actually built on reclaimed land, and when it opened in 1998, was the largest airport terminal building in the world. As of 2014, the airport is the 10th busiest in the world, carrying over 60 million passengers.

The airport architecture of the airport is simple, but brilliant. Massive steel arches support lightweight roofing material, with repeating sections to simplify construction. The sides are almost entirely lined with glass which gives the airport a very spacious and grand feel. There are 2 terminals. Terminal 1 is the conventional terminal with jetways while at terminal 2 you need take a bus to board the plane.


Upon arrival, the jetway leads immediately to ramps that lead you to a lower floor. There are also ramps going up but those are for departures. The walk to the baggage collection area can be very long but I do like that the airport has an APM (similar to LRT. In fact, trains are same model as Changi Airport Skytrain!) that connects the far end of Terminal 1 with the baggage area. 

[tip] If your gate number is larger than 32, take the APM. If not, walking is faster.

There are 2 sets of ramps. The middle leads to the arrival level while the top is from the departure level.

Travelators are available along the entire length of the airport terminal.

I personally like the split level arrangement (departure and arrival separate levels) compared to Singapore's single level arrangement, because it does make human traffic smoother. However, this arrangement will be a bit more inconvenient for transit passengers. There is some seating but I think it is insufficient considering how busy the airport is.

There are signs in both English and Traditional Mandarin, so international guests will have no problem navigating this airport.

While there are seating available, I think the seating is a little too few.

I did not check in luggage this time, but from observing other passengers it takes about 15 minutes for luggage to reach the collection area. (I was among the first economy passengers to alight) This is comparable to Singapore's Changi Airport.

No point rushing to the baggage belt! It takes about 15 minutes for luggage to reach there!

Airport Amenities

As a major international airport, Hong Kong International Airport has to cater both to departure/arrival and transit passengers. I will focus mainly on departure/arrival passenger amenities. There are ample places where you can find out more about tourist attractions in Hong Kong and even nearby cities. I would especially like to commend the information counter staff. Not only did she advice me on transportation options to Guangzhou, she even helped me to check the ferry schedule on the spot. Most information counters will simply reply "take the ferry!".

If you arrive in late morning/afternoon, some tour agencies may also approach you to sell "instant" tour packages, but I suggest you look at the itinerary carefully to make sure what they are selling is what you want. No need to compare prices because most prices are quite similar. As a rule of thumb, if you want to visit standard tourist attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland, Madame Tussauds or Ngong Ping 360, it is more advisable to take public transport.

[tip] Hong Kong International Airport is one of very, very few places in Hong Kong where you can get working FREE WIFI without a Hong Kong mobile account/number.

The airport has many nooks like this where you can learn more about tourism in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta as a whole.

These are the only 2 restaurants that are open before 6am. No prizes for guessing which one I ate!

The toilets at Hong Kong International Airport are large and well cleaned. I was also surprised at the number of handicap toilets and elderly cubicles. The place is indeed very wheelchair and elderly friendly,

Wow! 2 handicap toilets side by side? That's a first!

Getting to/from the Airport

There are several ways to get in and out of the airport. At first, I wanted to try the ferry to Guangzhou. However, the first ferry only starts at 11am so the information counter staff advised me to take a tour bus instead. Ticket to Guangzhou is HKD250, which is actually cheaper than the ferry. However, travel time is a bit longer, at about 3 hours compared to the ferry's 2 hours. Good thing is that the bus brings you straight (or very close) to your desired destination.

[tip] Be careful at China Border Immigration if you are taking the tour bus. You have to look out for the bus heading to your DESTINATION, not the number plate.

You can buy tour bus tickets at the transportation center under terminal 2

On the way back, I took the Airport Express. The trains are beautiful but expensive. A way trip to downtown is about HKD100. Only plus side is that you don't need to stand for the entire 30 minute journey. Just like the airport itself, the trains heading towards the city stop at the arrival level platform, while trains from the city always stop at the departure level platform. What a sweet feature.

[tip] To save money, take the Airport Express to Tsing Yi (HKD) then transfer to the standard MTR line to your destination, and vice versa.

Airport express ticketing counter

This board tells you the train's next station and direction. Note that in Hong Kong MTR, the lighted area shows where the train has PASSED, whereas in Singapore the lighted stations are stations where the train is going to travel TO.

There is ample space for your luggage too.


The departure hall is where you can savour the true grandeur of Hong Kong International Airport. The place is very cavernous and well lit. The queue for checking in is about 10 minutes and security checks about 15 minutes. This is not bad at all but still not as good as Singapore's performance. I just wished that they labelled the "priority queue for staff" more clearly and had staff to usher guests to non-staff lines when there are a lot of airplane crew entering. Even on a non peak day there was a bottleneck at that line!

If you know how to auto check in, you can bypass the check in queue.

The departure information signs are very informative but I wished they added the giant ones found in Singapore and KL Airport which allows more people to view from a distance.

There is some shopping options but no where near as extensive as Singapore's. Standard fast food features like Macdonalds is available. And here is something really sweet: a Disney souvenir shop that acts as an extension to Hong Kong Disneyland. While the stuff inside are overpriced, I do wish that some attractions in Singapore could do the same thing at Changi Airport. (think Singapore Zoo or Universal Studios)

At every departure gate, there are seats for passengers and the waiting area is completely open. There are also phone charging stations though you must exercise your kiasu mentality as there are only 5 plugs per departure gate!

Overall Thoughts

Hong Kong International Airport is very busy. However, it also handles the crowd very well. Most queues are completed in a matter of 1 digit minutes (or low 2 digits) and the place is warm, clean and inviting. Toilets are available, and it was also the only place in my entire trip in Hong Kong where I got working free wifi. Security is stringent but not as intrusive as many other airports. I do wish that there are more seats at the boarding and transit areas, and also less announcements.

  • Queue Time: ☆☆☆☆
  • Cleanliness: ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Transportation to/from city: ☆☆☆
  • Security (efficiency): ☆☆☆☆
  • Airport Layout: ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Overall: ☆☆☆☆

Like this post? Then like the Second Drop facebook page to receive more travel review and guides. Come on don't be shy. :D You will also want to see my review about KL's International Airport, and COMPARE! Or why not explore the various attractions near to Hong Kong Airport, as shown below.

China and Hong Kong Theme Parks