The dragon at Beijing Capital International Airport came to life on Friday. Everyone who walks into the dragon-shaped Terminal 3 (T3) will see the flattery heaped upon it before it opened was no deception.
The new terminal wasn't even half as crowded as the two older ones around noon, when this reporter walked in. No lines in front of check-in desks, no passenger running down the passages, no arguments in hushed or loud tones, No strains, at all. That's should be good news for those traveling to and from Beijing for the Olympic Games.
A view of the interior of Beijing International Airport's new terminal on the outskirts of Beijing February 28, 2008. In preparation for a passenger surge during the 2008 Olympics this August, the newly-built No.3 terminal building at the main airport in Beijing has started getting ready for operations. [Agencies]
Camera-clicking passengers are rare in the old terminals. But they were everywhere in T3, taken in by the size and dcor of the new edifice. Shoppers can take heart, too, for T3 has a lot more shops. The new terminal is all about space and the use of it - especially because it has been built to maximize the use of natural light, with walls of glass.
There were places that looked full, however - a caf in the departure hall, for instance. People sat there chatting or working on their laptops, a cup of coffee or other beverage on their table. Leisure was in the air.
But then, didn't T3 handle only 42 flights throughout the day? Yes, but that's not why it wasn't crowded. T3 is huge, and it would take a hell lot of passengers to make it crowded.
That its gigantic size and unconventional shape have caught everyone by surprise was evident from what Peter Nataraj said. "It was visible in the distance when our plane passed the Great Wall." First officer Nataraj co-piloted a British Airways (BA) plane, the first international flight served by T3.
The "unconventional shape" of T3 makes it look almost as long as the runway, he said. Usually airport terminals are rectangular or square in shape.
BA Captain Rik Heron, on his first flight to Beijing, looked as excited.
"This is the largest terminal building I have flown to. It is beautiful. The facilities are wonderful, and people here are helpful," he said. BA's was one of the three international flights served by the new terminal.
T3 provides a "comfortable feeling", said Irish national Rory McGowan, who took the BA38 flight to London at noon.
The Automatic People Mover runs up to the international boarding area, and immigration and Customs checkpoints are bigger than those in Terminal 2, he said.
The attitude of the staff in T3 is different too, said Liu Zhenquan, a businessman from Shandong province. "They are very kind. The woman at the check-in desk stood up to greet me when I walked up to her."
But Liu was lost in the huge building, unable to find the right way from the check-in island to the domestic boarding gates. He looked around for signs, but could not find any. So he decided to walk toward the spot where he saw a crowd. The signs were not on the walls or hanging from the ceilings but on the ground, he was told.
Liu Zhaolong, advisor to China Civil Aviation Airport, said the real test for T3 would be on March 26, when Air China and 18 other carriers move in and the passenger flow will reach 100,000 a day.
Air China's own and code-sharing flights account for 60 percent of the total at the airport now.
Also, the restriction on the number of daily flights to and from the airport would be lifted on March 26, said Li Jiaxiang, acting director of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC). "With T3's opening, Beijing airport can handle up to 1,800 flights a day," he said.
Safety concerns prompted the CAAC to order the airport to cut the number of daily flights by 48 to 1,050 in October.
Designed by British architect Norman Foster, also the man behind Hong Kong's Chep Lap Kok Airport, T3 has special bridges to handle Airbus's giant double-decked A380.
It has almost double the number of boarding gates of the old terminals and nearly 300 check-in desks.
A train link, to open before the Olympics, will zip people downtown in about 15 minutes on the 28-km line, and the high-tech baggage system will handle 19,800 bags an hour.
Six carriers, Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Qatar Airways, Qantas Airways, British Airways and El Al Israel Airlines, will use Terminal 3 initially. More will move in from March 26.