I stood at the airport hotel window and looked right, the direction I was expecting to see the planes landing on the runway 01 of Beijing Capital Airport (PEK). On that evening, according to Flightradar24.com this 3,810 meters long concrete airstrip served mainly for narrow body planes landings. I was very exited as the 5th floor location of our room gave me a great look-out for approaching planes. I didn’t however bear in mind the dense smog which almost completely spoiled the fun of watching the airplanes.
It was so dense I barely saw its lights and it was impossible to recognize the shape and the livery of the airliner. This really upset me and in the same moment showed one of the constant attributes of Beijing landscape. Choking, hazardous and ubiquitous smog was covering every beautiful place in the city, including the PEK, destroying its outer appeal. And when you look at Beijing International Airport both form the inside and outside it is lot to admire.
Terminal 3 is the 2nd largest passenger terminal in the world. It was designed jointly by NACO, Foster and Partners and ARUP and it is absolutely massive and impressive both it case of style and dimensions. It is spacious and very modern. It was finished in 2008 and is separated from Terminal 1 and 2. I reviewed T1 in one of my previous articles and you may find it here.
We arrived at the terminal in the early morning just after the disappointing night in which I was not able spot the planes due to smog problem I mentioned earlier. I was very angry but just the first glimpse of PEK made me happy again. The building was enormous. Vast and high roof was giving an impression of power and greatness. The shuttle bus from our hotel stopped at the lowest floor and it was not easy to find the way to the departures hall from there. After covering huge distance, using countless escalators and following the indication of too many signs we finally got there. In the first moment departures hall looked like starry nightly sky. We entered this area slowly and majestically riding on the escalators.
The lights on the ceiling created such unreal image in front of my eyes which was soon substituted by unbelievable crowd and rush of moving passengers. In this mass of people it was not easy to find LOT Polish Airlines check in desk. Once we identified the right one, we had to start waiting in a 45 minute long queue. According to US based air travel information service FlightStats, Beijing Capital Airport was one of the most congested airports in the world in 2013. Only 18 percent of flights were on time and about 42 percent of departures has delays of 45 minutes or longer. With that knowledge I was prepared for longer waiting. Maybe because I was expecting the worst, my impression was actually not so bad. Of course this is just subjective opinion and it was once again tested during security check. We spent almost 40 minutes in the terrifying queue. Anyhow, once this inconvenience was behind us we found ourselves in Terminal 3C and went down with the escalators to catch our train to Terminal 3E.
It was a truly amazing place, clean, elegant and designed with a very good taste. Despite overwhelming crowd, we didn’t wait long for a train. Everything here was well organized and fluent. We entered a modern and elegant self-driving train which took us to the Terminal 3E.
On our way we had additional stop at Terminal 3D, which is a smaller satellite concourse between Terminals 3C and 3E. The train was slowly passing various airport buildings and after approximately 5-10 minutes reached terminal 3E which was its last stop.
Terminal was also huge and looked much more empty then 3C. It was full of shops, restaurants and gates. It had also a couple of Chinese style rest areas where you could sit on the wooden bench, relax and think about your life or travel. They were surrounded by flowers and plants which magnified the tranquil atmosphere. Everywhere was calm and silent. Peaceful music was coming over airport speakers. It was a big change after a long queues we stand in an hour ago. From this perspective the airport looked very big but I couldn’t guess it was the 2nd busiest airport in the world. In 2013 PEK handled almost 84 million passengers and works above its capacity limits which is 76 million.
Chinese authorities decided to spend 13 billion US dollars and construct new Beijing Daxing Airport which will support PEK with coping permanently increasing passenger numbers. The new airport, once fully finished (around 2025), will be able to host 72 million of travelers annually. Moreover it will have 4 runways and will be situated to the south of Beijing, near the border with Hebei and Tianjin province and it is designed to serve all this regions. Right now Tianjin City has Tianjin Binhai International Airport (TSN) which handled around 10 million passengers in 2013 and Hebei’s capital Shijiazhuang has Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport (SJW) which had circa 5 million visitors in 2013.
We had to buy small souvenirs for our friends so we started to walk around shops and begin proper sightseeing of the concourse. The gigantic roof was supported by numerous, white columns and the buliding had same chic and elegant style as departures hall in Terminal 3C.
After some time spent in duty free shops we had to find our gate number 14, where LOT Polish airlines 787 was parked. We walked for 400 meters to the gate and sit on the comfortable soft seats in waiting area. The windows were very big and gave a great view on what was going on the apron. Our plane was on time and we were among those lucky 18 percent flight which departure on time. Considering the size of PEK airport and amount of people use it, I was positively surprised by how well it was organized and how good impression made on me. I liked its architecture both from outside and inside.
I especially enjoyed traditional Chinese elements contained in the modern design of the building. I have seen these accents on the arrival, while going to immigration and on the departure while waiting for our plane. This combination of history and present rapid development of China was clearly visible in Terminal 3 and I liked it very much. I would like to return to Beijing once again but I will wait until the smog level in the city will be significantly reduced.