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Beijing Capital International Airport

Published: 02/06/2012 - Filed under: Home » Archive » 2012 » June 2012 » Destinations » Home » Archive » 2012 » June 2012 »

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It was December, 1988. My Air China 747SP from New York pulled up to the gate after midnight. I found a taxi to take me to the Great Wall Sheraton. The city of Beijing was devoid of light and warmth. On a bare and barely-lit street, suddenly a woman darted in our path. The driver slammed on the brakes, angrily rolling down the window, berating her. All the while she stood, rocking back and forth, cradling a bundle against the cold.

That bundle was a baby, a very sick baby. In broken English, the driver said he was embarrassed the mother had brought him such shame by stopping his taxi. But, would I mind if he gave them a ride to hospital? I was speechless. Of course not. “Get in,” I said incredulously. Huddled in the back of the Nissan, the baby’s hot dry cheek resting against mine, we sped through the darkened streets. I never discovered what happened to the child.

The trip back was stranger still. I arrived JFK December 21, 1988, at the Pan Am terminal. Deplaning, I saw another mother swaying back and forth on her knees crying. Herchild’s flight was supposed to have arrived from London at the adjacent gate about the same time as mine. The board read simply: Flight 103. 

The world has changed in the 24 years since Lockerbie. Security is ostensibly better, Pan Am is history and Beijing Capital Airport is just too small.  

Dancing towards Daxing

According to figures from Airports Council International, Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest aerodrome on the planet. In 2010, the last year for which full figures are available, PEK handled just under 74 million souls. Passenger traffic here grew by an astonishing 13.1 percent. By comparison over the same period, Atlanta managed just 1.5 percent growth. Expect Beijing to surpass Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International any day as world’s busiest. 

“The core problem is that the enormous growth of the Chinese market domestically puts a constraint on the amount of international service that can be run out of Beijing [Capital],” says Josh Marks, executive director of the American Aviation Institute.The strain continues despite the relatively recent addition of Terminal 3, the world’s second-largest airport passenger building. It opened in 2008, in time for the Beijing Olympic Games. 

Capital Airport’s yet-to-be-attained position as world’s busiest might not last long. Waiting in the wings is a new megaport at Daxing, some 30 miles south of Tiananmen Square. By contrast, Beijing Capital is 20 miles northeast of city center.

Set to debut in 2017, the Daxing complex will replace Capital International as Beijing’s prime airportal, linked to the city by high-speed rail. It will handle as many as 200 million passengers a year. Plans call for up to nine runways. By comparison, massive Dallas/Fort Worth has seven, and Beijing Capital has but three. Schedules are so tightly packed at PEK (the airport code harkens back to when the city was called Peking) that it’s all but impossible to add more flights. 

OAGindicates nine North American cities currently link nonstop to Beijing: American and United from Chicago O’Hare, Delta from Detroit Metro, Air China from Los Angeles, Air China from JFK and United from Newark, United and Air China from San Francisco, Delta and Hainan Airlines out of Seattle/Tacoma, Air Canada and Hainan from Toronto Pearson, Air China and Air Canada from Vancouver, and United from Washington Dulles. 

A significant slice of that traffic connects at PEK to so-called “smaller” Chinese cities. In China, the term is relative and could well mean a metropolis of two million or more. Helping ease the strain on Beijing Capital International are connecting opportunities from North America over Shanghai Pu Dong, Hong Kong and Seoul Incheon. The latter is particularly nicely positioned. Consider the services offered by Korean Air. The carrier fields nonstop flights from Incheon International to 22 Chinese cities. Among them are Dailan, Hangzhou, Jinan, Quingdao, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Xiamen. 

Josh Marks believes as the new long-range, right-sized Boeing 787 flies for more carriers there could be opportunities for “point-to-point” flights to smaller Chinese cities from the US mainland. That could mean an airline such as United might fly nonstop from San Francisco to, say, Kunming – a 7,197-mile journey.  

The Essentials

Right now, Beijing Capital International remains a prime conduit for connections to the rest of this voluminous country. Actually, the airport isn’t bad at all. Respected Skytrax has bestowed upon PEK its 4-Star Airport Ranking. The contrast between the dowdy, amenity-starved airport of the late 1980s and today is apparent – especially when it comes to Terminal 3.

T3 is home to most western carriers: American, United, Air Canada, British Airways, Lufthansa and the like. Delta operates out of T2. 

One of the first things that strikes you about T3 is the fish. In T3-E you’ll find the Suzhou Garden and Royal Garden. Meant to be a tranquil oasis of sorts amidst the bustle, airport staff hand out free fish food to passengers. From time to time the airport’s Staff Art Troupe will break out in peppy song and dance, even perform magic tricks for you. Interesting diversions, certainly enthusiastic. But flyers would be better served by more Western eateries and slightly more cordial customs officers. 

Signage could be improved a bit as well. To better navigate PEK’s three terminals you might do well to download the airport’s mobile app. Designed for iPhones and Androids you can find it at the Apple App Store or Capital International Airport’s web site. 

WiFi’s free here. No need to pay for play. There’s a stand-alone business center, Digital Harbor, on the first floor of T3-E. It’s located in the International Lounge. If you’ve got a long layover you should consider a little time to kick back a bit in the Hourly Lounge in T3-E. It offers single rooms, hotel-like services and such. The phone number: 010-64532621.

If you need something more than a couple of hour’s sleep, there’s the Hilton Beijing Capital Airport. It’s quite literally a minute away via shuttle bus. The rooms are nicely soundproofed and come with high-speed Internet. There is a pair of restaurants: Compass Grill for steaks and seafood, and Yue Shang, a Cantonese affair. The on-site spa and a pool help work out the trans-Pacific kinks.

Up & About

Be religious about exercise while on the road, even while in the air. Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, (blood clots) remains a problem on the transpac and you don’t have to be confined to economy class to get it. Just sitting for hours, combined with a lack of water, will do it. Massage your calves regularly in-flight, and get up and about if you can from time to time. If you show any symptoms – redness, warmth, tenderness, swelling – go immediately to the airport medical clinic. It’s on the second floor in the International Lounge. Diagnosis, first aid, pharmaceuticals and such can be had here – as well as admitting and transfers to hospital. There’s another clinic in T3-C, west of the arrival hall. The phone number is 010-64530120. 

DVT is serious stuff. A colleague was disabled for days after a long trans-Pacific flight. Don’t ignore the symptoms. 

As for ground transport, taxi’s are abundant. The cost for a trip into the city will run between 100 and 200 Yuan (about $16 to $32). The Beijing Subway’s Airport Express Line makes the run in about twenty minutes. Get on in T3. There’s a stop at T2 and then it’s on to Sanyuanqiao and Dongzhimen stations. 

As China’s citizens course through those subway stations, headed to their suddenly overloaded airport, the persistent chatter is about how fast the landscape is changing. It’s the national obsession. There’s no better way to gauge that change than to contrast Chinese aviation then and now. Soviet-era aircraft are all but gone, the capital’s present airport is poised to become the busiest on the planet and pieces are in place for a gargantuan replacement. Take a deep breath folks. Sooner or later that boarding pass in your pocket will probably say PEK.


Berlin Airport Delayed until 2013

The opening of Berlin’s new airport has been delayed until March next year – nine months after its originally planned debut.

In a statement released May 17, the airport said that Berlin Brandenburg would not be ready to open until March 17, 2013.

The new facility was originally due to open on June 3, replacing the German capital’s existing two airports: Tegel and Schoenefeld.

But this was delayed because of problems with the new airport’s automated fire safety measures. It was originally thought the delay would only last a couple of months, but the airport now says that work, and the subsequent series of inspections by Berlin authorities, will take until December to complete.

“The new timeline is set to minimize the risk that the time available for inspections, approvals and certifications could potentially be insufficient,” according to the statement. “In addition, the risk would be too high to move the airport in winter due to adverse weather leading to operational restrictions.”

Construction delays and the lack of reliability of other systems were also blamed for the need to push the airport’s opening out another 10 months, a decision that was reached only days prior to the much-heralded June 3 launch. 

Lufthansa has already announced that it will be running its planned new services from the existing Tegel airport. Air Berlin has also said that it has assigned a taskforce to adapt its expanded flight schedules to the existing facilities at Tegel.

As a result of the delays, it was announced the airport’s managing director of operations and constructions, Manfred Körtgen, will leave the company, and the contract with project management company pg bbi was terminated.

Delta Opens Atlanta’s New International Terminal 

Delta Air Lines operated the first official flight from the new concourse F at Atlanta’s Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal when flight 295 departed for Tokyo Narita May 16. The carrier then welcomed the terminal’s first arrival, with flight 177 from Dublin touching down soon after.

The new terminal concourse F joins the existing concourse E and adds 12 gates capable of handling wide-body jets. The new facility eliminates the need for Atlanta-bound passengers to recheck their baggage and clear security at concourse E.

Departing customers can access the international terminal via Interstate-75 at exit 239, with a shuttle service connecting passengers to the domestic terminal, parking facilities and MARTA train services to downtown Atlanta.

Inside concourse F Delta customers can take advantage of the newest Delta Sky Club facility, featuring seating for over 300 guests, eight shower suites, multiple work areas and a bar with premium wines, champagnes and spirits available for purchase.

“Delta’s contribution to the new terminal and concourse is part of a more than $3 billion investment in facilities, products and technology in the air and on the ground,” according to Richard Anderson, Delta’s chief executive officer.

“In addition to this premier international gateway in Atlanta, renovations and expansions to Delta airport facilities also are underway in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.”

Work is underway on a $160 million renovation at New York’s La Guardia Airport, including a new Delta Sky Club. A $1.2 billion expansion of Terminal 4 at JFK will house nine new international wide-body gates and a flagship Delta Sky Club when it opens in spring 2013.

Delta’s facilities at Los Angeles International Airport are being renewed as part of the airport’s wider $4 billion overhaul, including a new baggage system, better customs processing facilities and improved food and beverage options.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson is Delta’s hub airport, with the carrier operating more than 1,000 daily departures. The carrier recently dropped its London Gatwick to Atlanta route in favor of a second daily flight from London Heathrow.

For more information visit,


ANA Moves Up Tokyo-Seattle Launch: ANA has announced it will launch its Tokyo-Seattle service earlier than planned. The new start date is July 25. Originally, ANA had said last December that it aimed to begin services from Tokyo Narita airport to Seattle in the second half of its fiscal year 2012. However, ANA has decided to launch the route ahead of schedule in order to capture passenger demand over the busy summer season.

The route will be flown daily, initially using the Boeing 777-300ER, with service switching to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner during the course of the fiscal year.


Virgin Adds Fourth Daily LHR – JFK Service: Virgin Atlantic is planning to add a fourth daily flight to its London Heathrow-New York JFK service starting October 28. The new evening flight from London will arrive New York at 10:00 PM, with the morning return flight departing at 8:00 AM. It gives Virgin two flights departing New York in the morning – one from JFK and one from Newark.

Virgin currently flies three times daily to New York JFK, and twice daily to Newark. The carrier says the new service “will give connecting passengers greater flexibility, with timings to give a seamless connection onto other Virgin Atlantic routes including Delhi, Dubai and many of its African destinations”.

Virgin recently opened a new Clubhouse at JFK, and has launched its new Upper Class seat on the London-New York route.

For details visit

Frontier Airlines Connects Denver – Great Falls: Frontier Airlines has started a new seasonal service to Great Falls, MT from its hub in Denver. The new route, which will run until September 30, flies four times weekly.

The new service operates aboard an Embraer 190 aircraft with 99 seats and onboard WiFi. 

For details visit

Air Canada’s Daily Between St. John’s and London Returns: Air Canada has brought back its service between St. John’s, NL, Canada and London Heathrow. The daily seasonal service, which operates aboard a 120-seat Airbus A319, will run until September 30.

For details visit


n Alaska Airlines Unveils New Services from Portland: The US Department of Transportation has approved Alaska Airlines’ new daily service starting September 8 between Portland, OR and Washington, DC. The service will be the only operation between Portland International Airport and DC’s Reagan National. 

The approval follows the submission of 13,000 letters from people supporting the carrier’s application to DOT, according to Brad Tilden, the airline’s chief executive officer.

Once flight times are coordinated with the FAA, tickets will go on sale on

The carrier has also announced the launch of new seasonal service from Portland, OR to Kauai, HI beginning November 5. The service will run four times a week through April 7, 2013. 

For more details visit 


n US Airways Increases Philadelphia, Charlotte Domestic and European Service: US Airways is increasing its seasonal services from its hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte to Europe.

Daily seasonal operations will fly out of Philadelphia to Barcelona, Athens, Glasgow, Venice and Lisbon. Charlotte will have daily seasonal services to Dublin, Madrid and Rome. 

Both hubs will be increasing seasonal frequencies to Frankfurt. 

The carrier also announced the addition of domestic flights from Philadelphia to Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio and an increase in service from Charlotte to New York’s JFK beginning September 5. The Philadelphia-Dallas/Fort Worth service will increase to six daily flights. The new services from Philadelphia to San Antonio and Austin will be daily.  Operations between JFK and Charlotte will expand to five flights daily. 

For details visit


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