Airports are more than architectural aggregations, more than places to park aircraft while passengers scurry about. They’re lenses through which we view cities, even entire countries. Good or bad, they reflect the essence of a place and no airport is more so than Singapore Changi. If ever an airport personified a people and their aspirations, it’s this one. The nation of Singapore is synonymous with both the aerodrome and the carrier that dominates it.
“The government of Singapore has used the airport as a beacon,” says Josh Marks, executive director of the American Aviation Institute. “It represents what Singapore is all about.” What Singapore is all about is business. Indeed, Singapore Airlines per se“has a pretty good concentration of people who pay full fare” says Marks. “That’s one of the reasons it does so well.”
If SQ (Singapore Airline’s code) is one of the planet’s premier business airlines, its home airport also reflects the theme. The reasons to love this airport are legion. Folks who parcel out industry kudos seem to agree. The readers of Business Traveler have voted Changi (SIN) the Best Airport in the World in the just-released 2012 Best in Business Travel Awards. That’s the third year running for SIN to take home the coveted award. World Travel Awards recently bestowed its World’s Leading Airport award on Changi. Skytrax gives it Five Stars. More on why it gets all the accolades momentarily.
According to Airports Council International, in 2011 Changi was the 18th busiest airport on the planet, handling 46.54 million souls traveling in and out of Singapore last year. That places Singapore just after New York Kennedy, and just before Guangzhou, China. Between 2010 and 2011, despite the world economy, SIN managed to grow by just under 10 percent, 9.7 to be precise. Part of the impetus behind that near-double-digit growth is transit traffic to China and India. There are links from Changi to some 25 cities in the former, and 11 in the latter.
North American Links
According to OAG, Changi currently connects nonstop to North America via a pair of airports: Los Angeles International and Newark Liberty International. The former is a formidable 8,769-mile trip; the latter a jaw-dropping 9,524-mile foray. So long are these flights that Singapore Airlines deploys specially-fitted A340-500s on each.
However, the aging -500s are set to retire at the end of 2013, and along with them the long-haul routes. Once the US non-stops end, SQ will continue to fly from four US gateways – New York JFK, Los Angeles, Houston and San Francisco – though all of those flights will have stopovers in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Frankfurt or Moscow on their way to Singapore.
“Although disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market,” according to a statement by Singapore CEO Mr Goh Choon Phong. “Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt. We will also continue to explore additional options to enhance our US flight connection services.”
If you’re headed to Changi from Chicago, United does a one-hop that entails a change of plane at Tokyo Narita. Out of San Francisco SQ proffers one-stop flights. United fields a one-stop flight out of Washington Dulles. It too comes with a plane change at Narita.
High-end traffic flows to and through Changi are virtually friction-free. Singapore is an O&D (origin and destination) airport because of its role as “the financial center of Asia,” says Marks. Changi is also a prime connecting hub. You can get almost anywhere in Asia from Singapore.
Indeed, Singapore Airlines will connect you to destinations such as Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Manila, while Singapore subsidiary SilkAir jets to cities such as Siem Reap, Chengdu, and Kun Ming. Between them, Singapore Airlines and SilkAir field 150 daily departures out of Changi to 102 destinations in 37 countries according to SQ spokesman James Boyd.
SIN sports a trio of terminals. The fourth – the Budget Terminal – shut down on Sept. 25 to make way for the construction of a new Terminal Four.
Singapore Airlines operates out of Terminal 3. So too United and Qatar, among other carriers. The building is light and airy, has its own butterfly garden and is one of the world’s great airport structures. Mother Nature melds nicely with steel and glass in Singapore the city as well as the airport. Terminal 3’s “Green Wall” is a 16-foot-high affair planted with hanging creepers and graced by a wondrous waterfall. Terminal 2 sports a bonafide blooming orchid garden and koi pond. You’re not in Kansas any more.
The ambience sets the stage for the city itself: green, clean and well-tended. For many fliers “this is the first experience, the first taste, that travelers from abroad have of Singapore and of Singaporeans,” says Boyd. Changi is a calling card – one writ luminously large.
Rendering that first experience better yet, Changi Airport Group, the entity that runs the airport, just premiered SWIFT. Short for “Service Workforce Instant Feedback Transformation,” the idea is to ferret out problems and fix them fast. Fliers now have what the airport calls “touchpoints” to connect with supervisors in real time. The aim appears to be that the buck not be passed, that issues don’t burrow away and fester. Say you spot something foul in the restroom. There’s an interactive touchscreen there that lets you rate the place on a five-point scale. A gripe triggers an alert that’s immediately sent to the cleaning supervisor who takes it from there. This is the kind of attention to detail that suffuses the place.
The Business End of Changi
Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris lounge in Terminal 3 is sumptuous, even by the standards of folks who fly up front for a living. Open 24/7 the first thing you notice about the elegant enclave is that, unlike far too many airport retreats, this one is blessed by bonafide space. Chairs aren’t all bunched up together.
With an airport like Changi you’d expect pay-for-visit lounges too, those not affiliated with a particular carrier. Consider the Ambassador Transit Lounges in Terminal 2 and 3. The Terminal 2 lounge is on Level 3, across from the Ambassador Transit Hotel. The Terminal 3 enclave lies adjacent to the Ambassador Transit Hotel and the movie theater. It too is on Level 3. Both lounges charge a nominal rate for a five-hour visit. There’s VOIP/Internet access, office services, a gym, shower, beverages and other requisites. Many of the services – such as the gym and shower – cost extra.
For fliers with a long layover, Transit Hotels are located in all three terminals. The Terminal 1 hotel sports a rooftop swimming pool that’s open to non-guests as well. The rate is reasonable, and includes shower, and basic toiletries.
If you’re making a quick onward connection, and have to get some work done fast, there’s free WiFi throughout the airport – as well as some 500 Internet stations scattered about the accommodating aerodrome.
Care for your body and you can usually take care of business. With some of the longest nonstop flight distances in existence, Changi has seen its share of Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clots). This malady has felled more than a few transpac business travelers, one of this writer’s colleagues among them. The best way to prevent the potentially life-threatening problem it is to wear compression hose, massage your calves regularly during flight, and get up and move about when you can. If you show any symptoms – redness, warmth, tenderness, swelling – head immediately for one of Changi’s five clinics. Raffles Medical Group operates one in Terminals 1, and two each in Terminals 2 and 3. The Terminal 1 clinic operates 24/7. DVT symptoms are nothing to trifle with, so if you’re in a bind and need help fast, call the Raffles Medical Group Emergency Hotline at (65) 6543 2223.
Getting There by Ground
Singapore’s influence is in inverse proportion to its size. It’s a tiny jewelbox of a country, but one with considerable clout on the world stage. Still everything’s near everything else, so it’s hard for the airport to be anything but comparatively close to town: 13 miles from city center, to be exact. Rail transit entails a change of trains at Tanah Merah Station. That’s why most business travelers opt for taxis. A four-seater ‘Limousine Taxi’ runs S$55 ($45), a seven-seat ‘Large Taxi’ S$60 ($49). Shuttle service from Changi to city center hotels is reasonable: S$9 ($7).
Connecting among terminals is easy. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are all linked. Skytrain serves seven stations with separate cars for airside (transit) and landside (public) riders.
Each of those terminals sports good bars. In Terminal 1 it’s Bistro & Bar in the Departure Check-In Hall. Terminal 2 boasts O’Leary’s Sports Bar & Grill in the Departure Transit Lounge, after immigration. In Terminal 3 it’s Harry’s Bar in the Departure Transit Lounge.
So, raise a glass to airports that push one another to the heights. Those five coveted Skytrax stars definitively define what a stellar international airport should be. Hong Kong and Seoul Incheon are in that echelon too. The winner in all of this, of course, is the business traveler.
— Jerome Greer Chandler
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