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First fancy

With Airports claiming to be a ‘destination by itself’, they are fast becoming the first fancy of travellers exploring a city. In a first of this two-part series, Poonam Rathore flies through some trendy hubs...

Be A Millennium Millionaire
“Is it a plane?,” I asked the air-hostess as we circled the airport awaiting landing signals. She politely replied, “No ma’am, it’s a building.” But I’m sure like me, many of you would be mistaken because Dubai’s new terminal is so streamlined, you can almost imagine it taking off. The new concourse - with an unusual tube-like shape - has been designed to fit a space occupied by a former runaway. Taking the subterranean moving walkway to its architecturally striking new concourse, I realised that this was yet another eclectic Dubai landmark. And - cheers all around - as they have kept it on the site of the old airport, conveniently close to business and hotels - rather than relocate elsewhere. Though impressive on the way in, it’s on the way out that Dubai’s showpiece is appreciated.

No longer congested as before, after a smooth check-in and swift immigration, I headed right to the moving walkway to emerge in what appears to be a shopping mall. This is Dubai Duty Free’s new 5,400 square metre state-of-the-art shopping complex. Boutique-styled outlets are set as islands down a central boulevard dominated by an 18 metre metallic ‘millennium tree’ incorporating hundreds of fibre optics to produce colourful visual effects. These shops stock everything under the sun right from alcohol, perfumes, tobacco to designer wear and electronics; you name it - you have it - that too at amazing bargains. Though the most alluring deal used to be the widely advertised car draws, however with time, I guess, these car draws have taken a back seat, to the recent innovative Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire promotion. This exciting promotion offers travellers the chance to win US$ 1 million off the purchase of a 1,000 dirhams (US$ 278) ticket in a limited 5,000 ticket series. Srike it lucky!


An advanced system of display monitors keeps
passengers abreast with the latest flight information
at Hong Kong International airport

Not far away is the food hall with an option of 25 food and drink outlets within the concourse. From fast food to speciality cuisine to an Irish pub, you will certainly be spoilt for choice. The Irish pub is an appealing base if you don’t have access to an airline lounge. Head for the rear table overlooking the runway activity, the view is amazing. The same level also houses the bright and extremely spacious airline lounges.

In a nutshell, the new Sheikh Rashid Terminal definitely scores over the rest in efficiency and comfort, significantly smoothening travel to the commercial heart of UAE and many points linked to it.


Check-in facilities for Privium members at Amsterdam Schiphol

Glide In And Out
No more knuckle-whitening flights into the old Kai-Tak airport. After its initial teething problems, Hong Kong’s new airport at Chek Lap Kok, designed by British architect Sir Norman Foster (who also designed London Stansted Airport), has settled down to become one of the region’s leading aviation hubs. It was amazing to note that, the terminal building is the largest covered space in the world, with the ultra-modern, world-class facility built at a cost of US$ 20 billion and stretching across 24 miles.

Weary from a long flight, the impressive glass facade, automatic walkers and proficient functioning immediately caught my fancy. Clearing immigration in a record 15 minutes, my baggage was delivered within 20 minutes of arrival, as promised. Baggage handling is, inevitably, second to none. Making my way to the glass tube of the Mass Transit Railway’s Airport Express Line, I sat down and began to fiddle, like most passengers, with the seat-back videoscreens revealing mind-blowing statistics. After 25 minutes and several opening and closing of automatic doors, I arrived into Hong Kong’s central district. The airport, undoubtedly, scores as far as efficient transport options go. Not only can you catch a train to the airport, but also - at least when flying with certain airlines - check in your flight too.


Swimming pool at Singapore Changi

If in most respects, Chek Lap Kok represents a quantum improvement to its overcrowded predecessor Kai-Tak, however, catering is not one of them. To pen just one of its drawbacks, majority of its restaurants have been plucked out of its old location and clumsily plonked down in the new one. The airport’s passenger terminal is nearly a mile long and boasts a shopping mall with 140 restaurants and retail shops, including Harrods and Gucci.

Except for tobacco and liquor products, which are duty-free, prices are roughly similar to downtown, where there is no sales tax. Bored of shopping, try the Plaza Premium Lounge and its beauty salon.

Plane spotting was a unique pastime with enthusiasts at the old international airport, and now it is catching on at Chek Lap Kok. But with a difference. You will notice a small hill next to the airport’s entrance corridor. This remnant of the original island has been left in its natural state and from the top one commands a splendid panoramic view of the South Runway. Truly, a breathtaking sight!


Business lounge at Sheikh Rashid Terminal,
Dubai International Airport

On touchdown, I could safely vouch for the fact that there are few airport developments in the world to match those in Hong Kong, and they are just getting better with time. Not without reason then is Chek Lap Kok described as Hong Kong’s Airport for the millennium.

 

Shop-N-Win In Style
For those of us who spend much of our lives checking in and out of an airport, arriving into Changi is sheer pleasure after a long and tiring flight. More importantly, Changi Airport does what an airport should be doing best - providing speedy and hassle-free clearance. On a recent trip to Singapore, it took me less than 30 minutes to clear immigration, claim my baggage and go through customs procedures. As I browsed around the airport, I discovered that duty-free shopping at Changi is way ahead of competition. Humongous is not the word, with over 100 shops in both terminals offering the widest range of quality products at value for money prices, there was never a dull moment. You could enjoy the lowest prices in Asia-Pacific for all perfumes and cosmetic products. If you have a fascination for cars like me, a visit to Asia-Pacific’s first Mercedes-Benz boutique is a must.


The Hong Kong International airport abundant
natural light in a spacious setting

If you’re looking for liquor and tobacco products, duty free is your best bet as you can enjoy savings of up to 60 per cent off city prices. If shopping ain’t your cup of tea, rest and relax at the rooftop swimming pool in Terminal 1. But remember to pack your swimming gear in the hand carry luggage and bask in the sun. For the marine lovers, you can also relax at the sight of carps swimming in the koi pond at the Orchid Garden (I can simply go on admiring the amazing marine life for hours on end).

Not to be missed is the first and only gameshow in an airport - ‘What’s our Range’. To participate, simply spend any amount (minimum S$ 50) in the retail or dining outlets in the departure/transit lounges, and you can pit your general knowledge against other passengers in a ‘live-quiz’ gameshow, with shopping vouchers worth a total of over S$ 13,000 to be won each day.

E-Hub at Singapore Changi

Inevitably, no other airport offers an exciting combination of user-friendliness, sheer efficiency and convenience to downtown than Changi.

Experience Dutch Culture
As my flight was about to land at Schiphol, my Dutch co-passenger exclaimed, “Once, Amsterdam Schiphol was just an ordinary place for starting or ending a trip. But now, it’s a ‘real airport city’, where travellers can pretty much do anything!” Host-hype, I thought? Not really, for my experience of Schiphol was indeed far more than an airport. As I picked up a miniguide from the information desk, it claimed boldly that this was Netherlands newest city. That may be slightly overstating the case, but there is no doubt that Schiphol - sorry, Airport City - caters to an audience wider than the humble traveller. Among Schiphol’s advantages is that it is self-contained, with no terminal-hopping that sometimes causes minor panic in transit passengers or even confuses unwary first timers.

Schiphol Plaza at Amsterdam Schiphol

To my amazement, Schiphol boasts a casino, a supermarket that’s open every day from 6 am until midnight, top-drawer artwork, the cheapest duty-free in Europe (I could vouch for that), and a kid’s play area with (free!) Nintendo games. What I’m about to disclose may come as a shock, but an entrepreneur from Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district actually applied for a license to open a ‘relax club’ (read between the lines) here, however even the liberal Dutch turned it down.

As I oriented myself with the airport, I discovered that everything emanated from the massive Schiphol Plaza, the airport’s central hall, which boasts 40 shops or more that is sure to make a hole in your pocket. Though its selection of outlets is limited, the range of food served is better than a lot of airports. The Touchdown self-service restaurant can get crowded, but its popularity reflects the variety of food offered. Do you want to get rid of the weariness of jet lag by doing something exciting? The Schiphol casino is an excellent place to do that. Gaming options include roulette, blackjack and slot machines.

Catching up with time (or should I say technology), the new introduction at the airport is the automatic border passage using iris recognition. Frequent travellers can enjoy priority parking right next to the terminal and priority check-in facilities with the nine participating airlines. The passenger can cross the border (go through immigration) in 10-15 seconds without having to queue.

As I was excited, all I could reiterate is that Schiphol is sure racing to become Netherland’s newest city.

Concluding this part of the series, it could well be inferred that airports have definitely evolved over a period of time. From being just a landing zone to now a ‘destination by itself’; be it shopping, accommodation or even a game of roulette, you name it, and you have it. I guess, that’s what one calls traversing time zones.

Flying By


Chek Lap Kok Hong kong

Amsterdam Schipol
With the new automatic border passage using iris recognition, you can cross the border (go through immigration) in 10-15 seconds without having to queue.

  • Do you want to get rid of the weariness of jet lag? The Schiphol casino is an excellent place to do that.
  • The Panorama Terrace provides the best viewing terrace for aircraft enthusiasts at any major European hub airport.
  • Best healthful nosh: Sandwiches from Sandwich Island on the upper level of the West Lounge area.
  • Best sinful snack: Chocolate, from any of the shops aptly named ‘Chocolate Store’.

Singapore Changi

  • Free Singapore Tour: Passengers with five hours to spare before the next connecting flight can register for a free two to three hour sightseeing tour to the city centre, Raffles Landing site and a 20-minute boat ride on the Singapore River area.
  • Grab the ever-favourite Bailey’s Irish Cream now and you will save up to 35 per cent off Heathrow prices. Liquor is the cheapest at Changi.
  • If shopping ain’t your cup of tea, rest and relax at the rooftop swimming pool in Terminal 1.
  • But not to be missed is the first and only gameshow in an airport - “What’s Your Range”.
  • You can also relax at the sight of carps swimming in the koi pond at the Orchid Garden
  • Health screening packages are also available to passengers at the medical centre.

Hong Kong International Airport

  • The free airport shuttle service transports passengers between all major hotels and Hong Kong or Kowloon Station. Free In-town Check-in and porter services are available at Hong Kong and Kowloon Stations.
  • Except for duty-free tobacco and liquor products, prices are roughly similar to downtown, where there is no sales tax.
  • When shopping, browsing, eating and relaxing lose their appeal, try the Plaza Premium Lounge and its associated hairdressing/beauty salon.


Duty Free bonanza at Dubai International Airport

Dubai International

  • The cheapest duty free in the world: from alcohol to electronics, you have it all.
  • Don’t miss a chance to participate in Dubai Duty Free’s widely advertised car draws, especially the Dubai Duty Free Millennium Millionaire promotion.