Narita International Airport – a gateway to Japan

Since it has been completed in 1978, Narita International Airport (NRT) has been a primary international hub serving Tokyo. From the beginning it was attacked by local communities, protesting about the potentially harmful impact it could have on the neighborhood. Despite unfriendly atmosphere and the new trend of building new airports on the artificial islands, NRT survived and is still a vital and important part of Greater Tokyo transportation system. We arrived there for the first time onboard of Japan Airlines’s 787-8 flying from Helsinki (HEL) and from the beginning we got a small taste of Japan. When we landed on the runway 34R, it was a warm spring day and we immediately saw a plenty of blossoming cherry trees which were growing nearby the airfield. Everything looked just like on the postcard and it was a fantastic welcome. It took a plane a while to reach the terminal as the runway 34R beginning is in the line of Terminal 2. After landing we where exactly on the opposite side of it a long way from the building. We only mentioned it because it is quite extraordinary. Normally the parallel runways are aligned one to another but not in Narita where just beginnings of the runways are in line. Finishes are very far from each other making the airport stretched and broad. We were happy to visit this airport as for years it was the only major international gateway to capital of Japan. After latest upgrades and constructions Haneda International Airport (HND), due to its lower proximity to Tokyo, started to gain more and more international traffic. It doesn’t change a fact that Narita is still one of the Japan’s aviation icons and the biggest international airport in this country. In our review we will concentrate on Terminal 2, from where we were departing to Europe.

Website

Visiting Narita homepage, you may feel like in late 90’s again. The site looks very old-fashioned being annoyingly blue and overladen by different images, fonts while definitely not having the distinctive style.

Narita website

Narita website

Except for English the site is available in Japanese, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Korean. The central part of the homepage is occupied by news section, where the visitors may read about the latest events and achievements of the airport. This may not look attractively but is very useful and you may easily find out newly launched destinations and airport milestones or statistics. I have to admit that despite relic graphics the site is a very good source of information for the passengers travelling to Narita and you will get all necessary advice about how to get to the airport, timetable or planned departures or arrivals. For international tourists accustomed to high quality websites this might be a big shock but still also English speakers may benefit from it.

Airport access

There are many ways to get to Narita. We used Narita Express (NEX) train which was a bit pricy (around 3000 JPY per person) and JR Sobu Line which cost 1/3 of NEX. What’s worth mentioning NEX is much faster then regular JR Line (1 hours versus 1,5), definitely more modern and beautiful but I was a little bit disappointed.

NEX

Narita Express (NEX) train

The futuristic shape of the train promised more from outside than it gave inside. Don’t get me wrong is it a really nice mean of transport but maybe my expectations were too high and I couldn’t cherish ordinary looking carriages interiors. Finding the platform is very easy as you just need to take the escalators down where the signs will guide to NEX of other JR lines (including Keisei line) to Tokyo. To Narita you may additionally get by Bus which is as expensive as normal JR and almost as fast as NEX. It really sounds like a good deal and my Japanese friends use it more frequent then train. You are of course able to reach Narita by car and taxi as the roads are in perfect shape, but it won’t be quicker and you will definitely feel less Japanese. This country citizens like railway very much and they have absolutely marvelous infrastructure enabling them to visit even tiniest village by train.

Airport Hotels

The night before our returning flight to Helsinki we stayed in nice 3 stars Richmond Hotel Narita in town of Narita. It was high rated and we really enjoyed this accommodation. Additionally it offers a free of charge transfer to the airport, serving both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

Narita hotel

There are many hotels in the city and for those who would like to walk a bit and eat a dinner in nice local restaurant instead of being “locked down” in typical airport hotel it is a good choice. Narita Airport offers many hotels and everyone will find something for himself but I found out most of them were rather poorly rated, so I recommend carefully planning your stay and checking accommodation on booking sites like booking.com or expedia.com first. However as this is Japan all of them will be very clean.

Quick Facts

Narita is currently the second largest airport in Japan and handled almost 35,6 millions passengers in 2014. Only Haneda Airport, the main domestic airport serving Tokyo and second largest airport in Asia in 2014 is around two times bigger. NRT is additionally the busiest cargo hub in Japan. In 2014, 2,1 millions tons of freight were loaded and unloaded at the airport. Narita Airport is located almost 60 kilometers to the north-east from Tokyo making it worse accessible from Japan’s capital then Haneda Airport. This puts it in unfavorable position comparing to Haneda and currently leaves with some unused slots. It has 3 terminals. Terminal 1 is used mainly by ANA and Terminal 2 by Japan Airlines. The budget Terminal 3 was opened in April 2015 and was designed as low cost carrier terminal (LCCT). It embodies the strong will of NRT authorities to be attractive for low cost carriers and expand this segment in Tokyo area, better utilizing unused airport capacity. Narita is currently developing very slowly and the new ways of increasing traffic are necessary.

Airport Exterior

From the outside the Terminal 2 building is ordinary-looking and very grey. It reminds me a lot of old US airports which are functional but their design has its roots in 70’s or 80’s.

Narita Airport

Narita Airport

NRT terminal is shapely and blamelessly clean which makes a great impression. Even if the external walls and the pavement outside don’t look modern, they are well maintained and tidy. This hit me the most while I was examining Terminal 2 building. The traffic in front of the terminal is well organized and fluent but as we have visited it early in the morning I could not check how it looks during the rush hours. Both Terminal 1 and 2 aren’t the architectural masterpieces and were built before great designing companies strive to get the most renowned projects in the world.

Terminal 3 design was created by Japanese creative lab PARTY and consultancy group Nikken Sekkai. I must say that although I didn’t see it live, on the pictures it prepossess with innovative approach to designing LCCT and multiple references to upcoming Olympic Games which will take place in Tokyo in 2020. What I found the most appealing is that the floor looks like the running tracks, colored in blue and dark red. Blue lanes are for departures and red for arrivals. They guide travelers thorough airport helping to find a way both to the plane and the exit. I wish I had a chance to witness it with my own eyes but if someone has such opportunity I guess he won’t regret.

Airport Interior

Terminal 2 is very spacious and looks much nicer from the inside. It is really big and have a high ceiling giving the passenger enough space to feel comfortable. It is bright and rather elegant. The floor is creamy and perfectly clean, so as the whole terminal. The check-in areas are clearly marked and lettered from A to P. Each passenger may find out on the monitors where particular flight has its check-in and baggage drop off.

Narita Airport

Narita Airport

In the unrestricted part of the departures hall, before the security control here is a big Food and Dining area, where travelers may find a nice restaurant, eat a snack, sandwich or buy some basic food stuff. It is located on the large entresol in front of the entrance. The choice is much bigger here then in concourses after the passport and security controls. What I liked the most about this place was a fantastic view for the apron which is rare in unrestricted access part of airports. Terminal 2 Departures is equipped with huge waiting areas with a soft seats. It was early in the morning so many places were free and I could easily rest there. I had a nice view for very big and easy to read departures information board.

Narita Airport

Narita Airport

Airlines

Narita International Airport is a hub for many leading Japanese and international airlines including ANA (NH), Japan Airlines (JL), Jetstar Japan, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Vanilla Air. The first two are Japan’s biggest carriers which fly accordingly to 31 (NH) and 34 (JL) destinations. These are mainly international routes which connect Tokyo to the world.

Narita airport

American airlines are historically very active on Japanese market. Delta is serving Tokyo Narita from 16 destinations and United from 11. Recently we have heard many rumors claiming US airlines are about to decrease its involvement in Narita traffic, abandoning hub growth in favor of more direct flights. It is possible but so far American planes are frequents guests at NRT. Jetstar Japan is a no-frills carrier owned by Qantas (QF), Japan Airlines and Mitsubishi Corporation and serves 11 cities operating from new Terminal 3. Vanilla Air is also a low cost airline being a daughter company of ANA. It flies to 6 destinations from Narita.

Check-in

The airport offers many self check in kiosks which are easy to use and speed up the whole process. In our case this method didn’t work as our names were mistakenly used instead of surnames. We knew about this problem since the departure from Poland so we weren’t surprised and after a short talk with airport staff we were directed to the right check in counter.

Narita Airport check-in

Narita Airport Check-in

Everyone was helpful and polite. By the way, this was a typically Japanese attitude. If you would like to experience an absolute feeling of safety and great manners, you should definitely visit Japan. At the desk, nobody even mentioned about error in our reservation. Airline employee amended our tickets and printed boarding passes without saying a word.

Security Check  

Narita Airport in not open 24 hours a day. That is why security check area is closed during the night. We had a morning flight that is why we wanted to be even earlier at the airport. However we couldn’t get through security because it was not working. Waiting people formed a queue waiting for the gates to open.

Narita Airport security check

The line was pretty long and I was caused by closed security check area. We would appreciate if they start controlling traveler earlier so we avoid spending around 40 minutes waiting. What was even more frustrating when the security check was opened, airport staff formed additional queue on the opposite side of the entrance which promoted people who just arrived at the cost of those who were already in the first queue. However, once the security officers started to work the queues disappeared relatively quickly.

Shopping

Once leaving security and passport controls you are entering the main terminal building concourse. It is very specious and its central part is dominated by vast shopping area where you are able to find many luxury brands as well as more affordable items. The shops had a very interesting prices, especially for perfumes which you could buy with a large discount. Normally airports prices of perfumes don’t differ much from the regular shops ones, but at Narita you are really able to save some money.

Shops at Narita Airport

Dining

There are a couple of dining options in Terminal 2 but the one I really would like to recommend is located in the satellite concourse, just to the right from the corridor, connecting main building and the satellite. It is called Blue Sky Miso Kitchen and it very tasty and offers a great view for the planes.

Lunch Narita Airport

We ordered Japanese style grilled salmon with miso soup and it was absolutely delicious. It was nice to enjoy such meal just before the departure. If you are not convinced, you may select from many restaurants both before and after security control.

Toilets 

Bathroom were clean but far from luxury feel and cutting edge design. We were expecting a little bit more after 2 weeks spent in Japan. The country has probably the cleanest bathrooms and toilets in the world which are additionally equipped with the advance and sophisticated cleaning technology and heated toilet seats. The airport’s restrooms were only average.

Toilets Narita Airport

Moving around the airport

Terminal 2 at Narita Airport is a very big building and getting from the entrance to the gates in satellite concourse takes time. You should take it into consideration while planning your time and shopping. Everything however is clearly marked and there is a visible airport’s information desk if anything needed. In the corridor connecting main building with a satellite concourse there is moving sidewalk and all the stair are equipped with escalators.

Business Lounges

In Terminal 2 there are 9 different airline lounges where cardholders or business and first class passengers may rest, work or eat something. In Terminal 1 there are 10 lounges which will meet expectations of all passengers. We didn’t have a chance to visit any of them so I couldn’t say much about the quality.

Is the airport spotters friendly?

Both Terminal 1 and 2 have an observation decks for spotters. What we found the most impressive was however a corridor connecting main building concourse and satellite concourse. One of the walls is almost entirely glazed, having large windows so transparent and clean that we had to touch it to actually believe there are mounted there. The passage has many hundred meters and gives a perfect and fantastic view for the apron. It is a great spot to observe and watch taxing planes and ground staff working hard to prepare aircrafts for another take-off’s. We have also mentioned a nice spotting area in the departure halls food court. All those amazing places make NRT one of the best airport to watch airplanes in the world.

Narita Airport

Wi-Fi

Wireless connection is available free of charge, without registration and works pretty well.

Places to seat and sleep

There is enough seats to fulfil the needs of all the passengers. All of them are comfortable and soft making it ideal for recovery and rest. NRT is being closed for the night so except for unplanned events the traveler are not allowed to spend night at the airport. For very tired guest the airport keeps a few dayrooms which they may book in advance. They are able to have some sleep or take a shower there.

Narita Airport

Airport operator

Narita Airport Authority (NAA)  

What we liked the most

Amazing views for the airplanes and airport

What we disliked the most

Organization of security check queues

Verdict

We liked Narita Airport despite its old fashioned design. The airport is very well organized and the travelers are being take care of and treated with respect as a genuine gests. The dining options are convincing and shopping enthusiast for sure won’t be disappointed while looking for new clothes and cosmetics.

Highflyers Airports Ranking 7/10

Post scriptum…

…I was waiting in a long and still standing queue. The security check gates were closed and the impatience among people was growing fast. But so far everyone remained calm and polite. I was happy to be in Japan far from rudeness and boorishness of today’s world. At least no one was ploughing on and pushing each other. I should have said “almost” no one. There was however one Asian nation which was destroying this prefect order, being very aggressive in its goal to move to the front of the line. I haven’t used the country name intentionally not to generalize but believe me in the moment I was standing there I would shout it laud for everyone be aware how manner less were those people. They were filling in even the smallest gaps between the waiting travelers and jostling for space, while moving ahead. This reminded me a bit my home country, where some people feel they are chosen ones, living much above the local rules and conventions. After I got through passport control where I was all the time nudged by the man standing behind me, I was so happy I was finally freed from those people. To be fair I have to mention that in the country where they live, such behavior is absolutely normal and is not considered being impolite…

…Suddenly I found myself in paradise, where I could watch the planes without any obstacles. I could move myself left and right to find a prefect place for my observations. The passage connecting two concourses in Terminal 2 absolutely impresses me and throw a completely new light on how my dream airports should look like. At least in terms of aircraft spotting possibilities. The corridor is very, very long and gives a panoramic, almost 180 degree, view on what is happening on the apron. I spent there almost half an hour and regret I didn’t have more time for this profound interaction with my beloved airplanes…

 

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