Guangzhou - CAN

The "Pearl" of southern China's air travel network

After the Qing Dynasty's defeat in the Opium Wars of the 1830s-1840s, the small town in the Pearl River Delta known to Westerners as "Canton" became a Treaty Port for the British. Around the same time, the French were working up from today's Vietnam into Guangdong Province, and these two colonial powers turned Canton into a logistics and warehousing hub for their commercial and military interests. In modern Guangzhou, you can still visit the European enclave of Shamian Island with its unique architecture and quiet atmosphere; families who've adopted children from China know it well as all foreign adoptions are processed through there.

After World War II, Guangzhou became a natural center for manufacturing and distribution; once trade was opened to the West in the 1980s, the city's growth ballooned as Guangdong Province became "the workshop to the world." The Canton Fair, a truly massive industrial tradeshow, runs twice a year in April and October, using up nearly all the hotel rooms, restaurants, and transport the city can offer (so tourism effectively stops at those times.) FedEx's third-largest hub is now Guangzhou, and massive oceangoing container ships dock just downriver from sleepy Shamian Island.

The city's old airport near Baiyun Mountain (meaning "white cloud"; how appropriate) was far too cramped to handle growing traffic and completely hemmed in by the city and mountain. In 2004 the new Baiyun International Airport opened about 28 km north of downtown in what was then quiet farming countryside. If you ride in from the airport by highway today, of course the stretch is nearly filled with warehouses, factories, and housing, but the airport planners left plenty of space at the new airport for expansion - which is happening right now, because the “new” Baiyun has been running well over its rated capacity for years!

Guangzhou is the 2nd-busiest airport in the People's Republic, and may well grow into one of the world's top ten before decade's end. For family travelers, here are some things you need to know:

Logos and trademarks are property of their respective airlines/alliances.

Service overview

For direct Trans-Pacific flights, at present the only carrier flying nonstop out of Guangzhou is China Southern (airline code CZ), that nation's largest airline, and member of the Skyteam alliance. They have two daily nonstops to both Los Angeles and New York JFK, daily nonstops to Vancouver, 5 flights per week to Toronto, and daily service to San Francisco (4 days a week are nonstop; the other 3 the flight stops in Wuhan on the way.) The Vancouver flight continues on to Mexico City three times per week. This is about all the traffic the US-China air travel treaty will allow for the time being; we’ll have to wait for a new administration in Washington and more openness from Beijing before additional slots will be negotiated…

China Southern has code-share agreements with Skyteam partner Delta through LAX and JFK to cover many cities in the US, Canada, and Mexico.  CZ also code-shares with American Airlines through LAX and SFO to select US destinations. In Canada, CZ codeshares with WestJet through Vancouver.

Connections from North America out beyond China on CZ to Southeast Asia and Australia have been aggressively priced, so it's possible you may have an international-to-international connection through CAN.

Most international travelers flying into Guangzhou are making an Asian connection enroute - most often through Seoul-Incheon (Korean Air or Asiana), Beijing (Air China or Hainan Airlines), or Shanghai-Pudong (China Eastern).

If you've made it to this airport, however, by far either you are visiting South China or are connecting to another part of the People's Republic. China Southern has its major domestic hub at CAN, flying to over 90 cities, and Shenzhen Airlines (Star Alliance) also has a big focus-city operation here. The other major carriers, Air China (Star Alliance), China Eastern / Shanghai Airlines (Skyteam), Xiamen Airlines (Skyteam), and Hainan Airlines (not part of an alliance), also cover numerous destinations. Finally, China has dozens more third-level carriers that tend to specialize in one region only (such as Sichuan Airlines, Chongqing Airlines, China Express Airlines) - some of these are really subsidiaries of the bigger carriers and others are really independent.

 Photo by  byeangel  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by byeangel via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

So there is substantial competition from Guangzhou for nonstop service to every 1st- and 2nd-tier city, and nearly all the 3rd-tier cities inside China. As a family traveler, this is what you want to see because domestic-to-domestic connections on any airline in China are not up to Western reliability, especially for non-native Mandarin speakers...

The budget-flying trend has also spawned several very-low-cost carriers like Spring Airlines and 9 Air; these are akin to Spirit or Ryanair and are very oriented to the Chinese home market, with every service at an added cost and no support toward North American family travelers.

International Arrivals

While Terminal 2 was officially opened in April 2018, China Southern has not moved operations there yet, keeping its international arrivals in Terminal 1 for the time being.

Passengers arriving from overseas are directed onto the 2nd floor, and follow a long, grey corridor (moving sidewalks are available) to the Immigration counters for passport check. As the norm for Asia, this step goes surprisingly quickly - waiting time of 5 - 15 minutes. From there, you'll go down to the ground floor and the baggage claim area. 

 Photo by  準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hand your Customs form in at the desk on the way out, and you'll be in the arrivals & ground transportation area.

If you are transferring to a domestic flight, you'll head upstairs into the massive main terminal area. Look for the "transfer" counters for your connecting airline to drop your bags and get boarding passes - then go through security and head to your gate. Thankfully, English signage is used throughout the terminal.

 Photo by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

International Departures

The airline check-in and baggage drop counters for foreign flights are all in the southeast part of the main terminal, with entry to the international gates immediately to the east.

You'll go through five layers of security between being dropped off at the terminal and sitting in your seat on the airplane:

  1. A random baggage search before you hand your suitcases over to the airline. Our guide said, “they look for travelers who don’t look like they’ll cause too much trouble,” so naturally we were ‘invited’ to be pulled over into the screening area.  This seems to be where the new screeners get their training, so be really patient. (Our bottle of Purell Hand Sanitizer was confiscated, because it “has alcohol.”) This took a good ten minutes, and only then could we get into the line for the airline counter.

  2. The usual boarding pass check as you head out to the concourse, which goes quickly enough.

  3. The passport control counters, which are horribly understaffed. Expect a half-hour wait, with nowhere to park yourself or especially your children.

  4. X-ray and magnetometer screening, with more staff eager to pull apart your carry-on bags. Another 15-20 minutes. Thankfully there is a moving sidewalk between the X-ray station and the “A” gates, but you may need to hustle.

  5. You might think you’re done, but for the international departures they set up another carry-on baggage inspection (oh yes, by hand) on the jetbridge as you try to board your aircraft.

 Terminal 2 artist's impression, from Otis Worldwide (the elevator people) press release. Click to link.

Terminal 2 artist's impression, from Otis Worldwide (the elevator people) press release. Click to link.

 Click on this image to open the interactive airport map (Baiyunport / Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport authority)

Navigating the Airport

CAN has a unique layout that works well for travelers heading from or to Guangzhou, but can give headaches for those trying to make connections - sort of a modern take on Los Angeles' LAX or Houston Bush Intercontinental; from Terminal 1 there are two "wings" with three "feathers" each coming off a central terminal building, and two “wings” with two “feathers” off each side of Terminal 2. "A" gates are on the east side and have 100- or 300- series gate numbers; "B" gates are on the west side and have 200- or 400- series gate numbers. (The 300- and 400- series gates take you to a bus that drives you out across the tarmac, and you'll board outside in the rain/sweltering heat...) The southeast-most concourse of Terminal 1 handles international flights; its other five concourses handle domestic traffic. 

Eventually the wings of Terminal 1 and 2 will be linked with still more gates, so in theory a person could walk all the way around the gate areas without needing to leave the secure zone.

Moving sidewalks stretch along each of the concourses, as well as along the lengthwise "wings" and also in the connecting passageway between the east and west sides. Because these gates are designed to handle jumbo jets, there is a lot of walking involved to travel between concourses.

The international concourse is isolated from the rest of the complex, but on the domestic side, once you're through security you can access all five of the concourses.

Shops, food, and services are spread along the "wings" and also out onto the concourses, on the gate level (3rd floor). Unless your flight is parked away from the terminal - in which case you'll go down to a waiting room on the ground level, where you will catch a bus to take you to your airplane.

When deplaning, you'll be let out on the 2nd floor, however, which is ... rather sterile, and really just a passageway to shunt you to baggage claim. If you are making a domestic-to-domestic connection at CAN (as long as your bags were checked through to your destination and you have boarding passes issued for your connection - this is *not* always the case for domestic flights in China), you'll need to look for where your connecting gate is - stay on Level 2 if you need to get to the other side of the airport; find an escalator or lift to get back up to Level 3 if your gate is on the same side.

When China Southern does move into Terminal 2, all these procedures will likely be re-written...

 Photo by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Well, the kids will get plenty of exercise from all the walking. There aren't any play areas set up, however, and the gate areas will get crowded before flights. Depending on your flight time, you *might* find an open gate nearby, but don't bet on it.

A movie theater has been opened in Terminal 1, but it appears to be located pre-security, so this is no good once you’ve checked in for your flight.

If you and your kids like to watch airplanes, this is a great airport to do it in; there are dozens of airlines from all over the world to see and activity all through the day. Likewise, if you can make people-watching into a learning and story-telling activity, the kinds of passengers you'll see at CAN are going to be a fascinating mix.

It will be interesting to see how Baiyun’s planners have laid out Terminal 2: will they see how airports like Seoul-Incheon, Hong Kong, Taipei-Taoyuan, or Tokyo-Haneda have incorporated numerous family-friendly features and responded competitively? Will the new terminal reduce the overcrowding in Terminal 1 and allow for more space, amenities, and service?

Restrooms

Overcrowded and under-serviced, with no space in the stalls for your bags or a toddler in tow. Expect long lines and little-to-no space for changing diapers, because Chinese kids are potty-trained at a much younger age than Western kids. Expect to see people smoking (they're not supposed to.) Western-style toilets are standard, but "squatty potties" are also available.

Not the worst we've experienced in China... just that they could be a lot better. "Family restrooms" were not a consideration when this airport was designed, for a number of social reasons - it may take another generation before the demand is there...

 Photo by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Food and Shopping

There are numerous shops and cafes along the domestic and international concourses, including McDonald's, KFC, and Starbucks. By far, however, the majority of retail and food outlets are Chinese brands, selling in Mandarin (and usually Cantonese) for the local population. Which is not to say that you won't be able to buy magazines, toys, or coffee: it's the same as shopping at O'Hare or Cancun...

For kids, there are multiple (mini) outlets of a local toy store across the complex, selling locally-produced toys mainly intended as gifts to be given at the other end of the trip (think big sets), not so much small items to be used for play at the airport and on the flight.

Remember that for international departures from Chinese airports, they interpret the "no liquids over 100 ml through security" rule to include anything that you buy in the secure area. Which means the water bottle you bought at the gift shop will be confiscated on the jetway. So don't buy any drinks in the airport that you won't be consuming before you get on the aircraft.

 Photo by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Connectivity

WiFi is advertised as free throughout the terminal; however, (1), you'll need to scan your passport at a kiosk to get an access code, and that process doesn't always work, and (2) these services are within China's Great Firewall - meaning you will not be able to connect with Western social media like Facebook or Twitter, will not be able to access Google or your webmail hosting, and won't be able to get to US/Canadian news sites. While you'll probably be able to get to your airline's website, performance and download times may be substantially degraded. If you've picked up a Chinese SIM card for your mobile phone, you can connect via the wireless carrier's service, but with the same browser restrictions.

Charging points are few and far between; best to charge up before getting to the airport.

CAN is at the northern end of Guangzhou Metro's Line 3 (the Orange line); service to downtown takes about 50 minutes, and connections to all parts of the city can be made via multiple stations on their now-extensive subway network.

China's much-promoted high-speed rail network does not go to Baiyun Airport, which is a missed opportunity; and the Metro from the airport does not directly hook to the HSR train stations either, so an in-town connection is required. 

Lodging

For family travel, the full-service Pullman Hotel located on the north side of Terminal 1 is especially convenient, as the realistic alternatives are all located back in the city.

Later in 2018, inside the secure zone of Terminal 2, an Aerotel short-stay hotel will open to cater especially for connecting passengers with long layovers.

Introductory photo of China Southern A380 by byeangel via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Also see:

Our Pinterest page on Guangzhou/Shenzhen

Our Pinterest page on China Southern Airlines

Tokyo Haneda - HND

Close-in convenience to the capital – and best-connected to all of Japan

Haneda Airport, located right on Tokyo Bay,was the city’s overcrowded all-purpose airport up to 1978, when Narita was opened and all overseas flights were transferred there, leaving HND to deal only with domestic flights. Improvements to the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) network blunted the need to improve the airport, but by the 1990s there was no doubt that substantial improvements needed to happen. Runways were added and extended, and terminals were reconstructed and expanded over the next decade to bring Haneda up to the world-class standard expected of a key East Asian airport.

With those longer runways, the improved range of modern aircraft, and the extra capacity now available, Haneda was reopened to long-range flights in 2010. But these flights were limited to East Asia and Europe, because the Japanese government did not want to change the competitive situation for Transpacific travel, where United and Northwest had substantial hubs on Japanese home soil at Narita, in competition with locally-owned Japan Air Lines and ANA-All Nippon. If lower-cost carriers from the USA were able to move their hub operations to Haneda, JAL and ANA would be at a disadvantage at their very home airport.

The US government didn’t care for Japan’s foot-dragging, but diplomatic pressure only yielded a handful of late-night arrival and departure slots – no good for making connections anywhere in Japan or Asia, and outside the operating hours of the Tokyo Monorail connection into the city…

Meanwhile, United Airlines formed a joint-venture with ANA, and American invested in and formed a partnership with JAL. In both cases, the pairs of carriers implemented code-share and revenue-sharing arrangements. These agreements locked Delta out of offering connections to the Japanese domestic market, and with them in place, Japan finally allowed daytime arrivals and departures from the USA to Haneda in 2016-2017.

Click to expand image.

In 2018, nonstop service from Haneda to North America is dominated by the Star Alliance (ANA, United, and Air Canada) and the oneworld alliance (JAL and American), with Delta flying only two routes and Hawaiian coming in from the Islands. 14 daily flights are available – still well below what is available from Narita.

JAL and ANA (and their subsidiaries) cover every city of reasonable size with a modern airport in Japan directly from Haneda. JAL, ANA, and their respective partners offer a growing number of flights to cities in Korea, China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia from Haneda, but those are aimed at Japanese business and not necessarily timed for smooth connections to North America. Despite the improvements to the airfield and terminals, there just isn’t enough capacity at HND to replicate the intercontinental connecting hub at Narita.

 Image by Banbam1029 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Banbam1029 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

 Image by Nagono via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Nagono via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

Coming off your aircraft from overseas, you’ll follow the ramp down to Level 2 and then take corridors with moving sidewalks along the concourse to the central portion of the terminal building. If you are connecting to another international flight and don’t want to leave the airport, look for the “International Connecting Flights” sign and walk into that area: you’ll go through a security check and then be directed back up to the 3rd floor for the departure gates.

Instead, if you are entering Japan, you’ll go to the immigration hall and its passport-check counters, where you’ll get your book stamped and be thermally scanned just to make sure you aren’t experiencing a massive fever (all of Asia is jumpy about viral diseases since the SARS epidemic). Assuming you’re healthy, you’ll walk though to the baggage claim carrousels, pick up your luggage, and as long as you don’t have anything to declare like tens of thousands of dollars in cash, head straight out into the Arrivals Lobby.

Where you go next depends on your next mode of travel: if you are taking a domestic flight and have your onward tickets, turn left and drop your luggage at the airline counters. Just beyond those counters is a security check: you’ll pass through that and then head downstairs for a shuttle bus which will take you to either Terminal 1 (JAL) or Terminal 2 (ANA).

If you’re taking the train, monorail, or bus, go forward to get your tickets or Suica stored-value card, and then follow the signs to get to your desired transport.

HND-diagram.png

Navigating the Airport

There are three terminals in operation at Haneda: Terminal 1 is for domestic flights by Japan Airlines (JAL) and its subsidiaries. Terminal 2 is for domestic flights by ANA-All Nippon and its subsidiaries. And the International Terminal is as its name implies, for all flights outside of Japan by all airlines, including JAL and ANA.

Each of these terminals is laid out in a similar linear fashion, with check-in counters and security checks on the 3rdfloor, and a long row of gates running the length of the terminal. There are “stubs” of gates on the far ends of each building.

 Image by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Also, each terminal has a substantial pre-security gallery of shops, restaurants, and open-air observation decks on the 3rd floor and up. These are a real treat for visitors and kids especially, compared to the fortress-based setups of modern North American airports.

 Image by  Twang_Dunga  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Twang_Dunga via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Japanese airports are some of the most kid-friendly in the world, even for families who are only visiting and not flying out that day. If your children enjoy anime, cartoon characters and mascots, they’ll find plenty to be delighted with. If they enjoy ninja culture and the elements of Japanese history, likewise there will be plenty for them to engage with. And of course if they like airplanes… Haneda has three of the best observation decks to be found anywhere in the world, and they’re all free, and open from early morning until late at night. The ones in Terminals 1 and 2 even have cafes right there, so the children don’t have to miss a moment of the action.

Post-security, in the International Terminal, there are two “kids’ corners” near gates 106 and 146 which are mostly for toddlers to move around in and burn energy without getting underfoot: there are low, padded benches surrounding each zone of Very Clean Floor and a little bit of equipment to climb on. The same facilities can be found in Terminal 1 near gates 9 and 16, and in Terminal 2 by gates 52 and 72.

Restrooms

In the International Terminal, all stalls are extra-wide so you can bring a rolling suitcase in with you or manage your child. The doors fold in on themselves, too, to make it easier to get in and out. Each restroom also has one or two “multipurpose toilets” which include a changing table and even a small shower, which would be good in a pinch for a baby or toddler who need more-than-usual cleaning up.

Adjacent to most of the restroom clusters are also dedicated nursery rooms, which include washstands, hot water, and private booths.

On the domestic side, similar design is at work in the restrooms, with a “multipurpose toilet” available in each.  In Terminal 1, there are five nurseries in the secure zone; in Terminal 2 there are six. There are also nurseries and “multipurpose toilets” throughout the public zones of all three terminals.

 International Terminal - Image by  Granpark407  via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

International Terminal - Image by Granpark407 via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Food and Shopping

Much the same as at Narita, you’ll want to budget extra time for your departure at Haneda just for the opportunity to explore and indulge the truly impressive shopping and dining areas pre-security. 

 Terminal 1 - Image by  RGB256  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Terminal 1 - Image by RGB256 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

On the domestic side, the central core of Terminal 1 (JAL) is a seven-story tall shopping center, stretching from the basement level all the way up to the observation deck! Be sure to check out the Tomika model-train shop on the 2ndfloor, the fan store for baseball’s Tokyo Giants on the 3rdfloor, and “Haneda Air Shop” on the 1stfloor for aviation toys and gifts. Likewise, Terminal 2’s central public area from the 3rdfloor up to the 5thfloor observation deck is lined with shops and places to eat.

 International Terminal - Image by  MIKI Yoshihito  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

International Terminal - Image by MIKI Yoshihito via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

In the pre-security areas of the International Terminal, the entire 4thfloor is a giant food court called “EDO  KO-JI” (35 different restaurants and fast-food counters, including favorites like Yoshinoya, Katsusen, Tsurutontan, and MOS Burger), and the 5thfloor is about half retail space called “TOKYO POP TOWN”with the other half being the observation deck. The 5thfloor is the place to go for Hello Kitty and other Sanrio goods; they also have a toy store (Hakuhinkan Toy Park) featuring a massive slot-car race track that shoppers can play with!

 Image by  Bert Kimura  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Bert Kimura via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

For both of the domestic terminals, once inside the secure zones, there are a reasonable number of cafes and fast-food counters spread along the concourses, and general travel-goods shops (I’d even go so far as to call them convenience stores) for any last-minute needs.

Inside the International Terminal’s secure zone, however, the shopping choices are concentrated toward the center of the building, and tilt decidedly toward the same luxury goods and expensive designer brands you see in every airport around the world. In the northern concourse (gates 141-148) and the southernmost gates (105-108) there are no options available, not even a bookstore, so be sure to eat and make any final purchases before walking out to your aircraft.  

 Image by  toshinori baba  via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Image by toshinori baba via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Connectivity

Haneda is connected to Tokyo’s mass-transit system via two lines, the Tokyo Monorail and the Keikyu Line, but neither plugs directly into the city’s main grid, and so a few connections are necessary to reach the main tourism and hotel centers. You’re always well advised to pick up a Suica stored-value cardright at the airport before setting out, as it’s the easiest and cheapest way to access Tokyo’s transport network.

  • The Keikyu Line has two stops after clearing the airport to reach Shinagawa Station on the Yamanote Loop Line: connect here to reach key western centers on the Loop like Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro.
  • The Tokyo Monorail flows along the waterfront with a great view for two stops after leaving the airport, before reaching Hamamatsucho Station on the Yamanote Loop Line. Connect here for eastern and central stations on the Loop like Shimbashi, Tokyo (downtown), Akihabara, and Ueno.
 Image by  DozoDomo  and Tokyo Monorail Co, Ltd. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by DozoDomo and Tokyo Monorail Co, Ltd. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Tokyo city government is working to build out a metro connection from downtown to Haneda in time for the 2020 Olympics, and extend operating hours of the trains until well into the night and early morning. The extra connectivity will make Haneda even more appealing to North American visitors.

WiFi is free in the public and secure areas of all three terminals, although in restaurants and bigger shops the free signal may not be available.

Lodging

If you are making an international connection that needs more than a few hours (or overnight), or if you are going to have an early morning departure, you might consider using one of the transit hotels on the airport property. Each terminal has one directly attached to the main building, and the one at the International Terminal actually has a section insidethe secure zone.

And just off the property is the Hotel JAL City Haneda, which is also going to be familiar with travelers from overseas.

 

 

Haneda Tower Complex photo by Alex Len via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

See also...

Our guide to Tokyo's Narita Airport

Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel Activities in Tokyo

What Your Kids Should Eat in Tokyo

Impressions - Harajuku Neighborhood

Impressions - Meiji Jingu Shrine

 

Haneda Airport's International Services home page (in English)

Haneda Airport's Domestic Services home page (in English)

Taipei Taoyuan - TPE

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A growing airport for a natural East Asian hub

Taiwan's location on the main sea routes hugging the Pacific coast of Asia, abundant natural resources and farmland, and pleasant climate made it an obvious choice for European and Asian colonization. After World War II and the Chinese Revolution, the island's population of refugees, indigenous tribes, and mosaic of dozens of other cultures had to rebuild without help from the Mainland - so trade became their lifeline, linking Korea and Japan with Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia. 

Taipei's original main airport, Songshan, by the mid-1970s had become overcrowded and hemmed-in by the burgeoning city. Between the buildings and highways surrounding it, and the ring of mountains surrounding its downtown location, there was no way that longer runways could be built to handle long-range jumbo jets - no way to construct a terminal that could handle ever-increasing passenger counts - and no place to put the massive cargo warehouses needed to keep up with Taiwan's growing manufacturing trade, especially in high-value electronics where shipping by air instead of sea delivered higher value.

The new airport was opened in 1979 well outside Taipei's suburbs. Originally called Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) after the Nationalist leader, it was renamed Taipei Taoyuan in 2006 after its local community. (Songshan Airport is also still in busy operation, serving domestic flights as well as key regional airports - but it still can't handle long-range flights.)

Government-run China Airlines quickly put the airport's long runways to good use by starting nonstops to the United States and multi-stop flights to Europe. Traffic continued to grow through the 1980s and 1990s, leading to the construction of a second terminal, as well as opening up airline competition to new carriers. Preparation is underway for an impressive third terminal and hotel complex that will open in 2020.

Today, two home-team airlines carry most of the long-haul traffic from North America to Taiwan. First is China Airlines [airline code CI], a member of the Skyteam alliance (with Delta, Korean Air, China Eastern, and KLM helping on code-shares). China Airlines has a subsidiary, Mandarin Airlines, that flies to smaller points in Taiwan as well as on the Chinese mainland. China Airlines flies to California, Vancouver, New York, and Hawaii with its modern widebody fleet. CI opens the first Transpacific nonstop service to Ontario, California in March 2018.

   
  
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    Image by  KC Shih  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

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The other long-range carrier based in Taipei is EVA Air [airline code BR] and its short-haul subsidiary Uni Air. EVA Air is in the Star Alliance with United, Air Canada, Asiana, Air China, and ANA-All Nippon. EVA has been steadily adding service to Star Alliance hubs in North America, recently opening Chicago and Houston. United adds a frequency to San Francisco, and Air Canada one to Vancouver each day, as well.

   
  
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    Image by  Steven Byles  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Steven Byles via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Click to expand view

Service Overview

Regional service from Taipei to East and Southeast Asia is robust and competitive: not only do EVA Air and China Airlines fly to all the major cities in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, additional local competition on runs to places like Seoul, Tokyo, and Osaka comes from Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, who has traffic rights thanks to postwar treaties. The run between Taipei and Hong Kong is one of the world's busiest corridors, with dozens of daily flights and nearly all of them using widebody equipment.

East Asia's major carriers all call on Taipei; for Transpacific flying, Cathay Pacific is a reasonable option via Hong Kong; ANA-All Nippon and Japan Airlines have frequent connections via Tokyo; and Asiana and Korean Air also offer multiple departures through their Seoul hub. Sometimes good bargains can even be found with Chinese carriers connecting through Shanghai (China Eastern) or Beijing (Air China and Hainan Airlines), depending on destination.

Low-cost carriers from all across Asia have found success at Taipei, too, and most of the region's budget airlines have started service there. Tigerair has a hub at Taipei, and companies like Air Asia, Jetstar, Peach, Jeju Air, Scoot, and VietJet have built strong business to and from the island. However, none of these carriers connect Taiwan to North America.

If you want to visit both Taiwan and Mainland China on the same trip, there are literally dozens of options now available as shown on the map below. Nearly all of the PRC's carriers have some degree of service to Taiwan, and the Taiwanese carriers likewise now have comprehensive access to the eastern half of the mainland. Not every route is flown every day, but the top-tier cities all have multiple daily departures. American and Canadian travelers are able to add cross-Strait flights to their Transpacific itineraries, but citizens of the PRC are not able to use Taipei as a connecting hub to North America.

Most flights arriving Taipei from North America will land in the early morning, so connections to places like Hong Kong, Manila, and Bangkok are convenient. But for most flights to mainland China, the timing for a straight-through connection is awkward, so it's a good idea to spend a night or two in Taiwan before continuing on.

Click to expand view. Far too many airlines plying these routes to even try to put a legend on this map...

   
  
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    Image by  Luke Ma  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by Luke Ma via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

Passengers arriving at TPE will be directed down to Level 2, and will walk to the midpoint of their concourse. For passengers who are transferring to another onward international flight, there is a security checkpoint to go through (metal detector and X-ray of carry-on baggage). After the checkpoint, they'll go back up to Level 3 for access to all gates.

For passengers entering Taiwan, they can skip the security screen and instead follow the connecting hallway into the arrivals hall. As is common in Asia, the first stop in the arrivals process is a medical quarantine check where a thermal camera looks for anyone with a high fever.  After this stop, the hallway opens up into the passport check area where there are dozens of counters to process incoming travelers. Including waiting time, and depending on how many flights are arriving at the same time, this step can take 5-20 minutes.

Beyond the passport check station, passengers will go down to Level 1 where the baggage claim carrousels are located. Each terminal has six big luggage belts, so checking the monitors to find the right one is a must.

Customs declaration counters are just past the baggage claim; travelers with nothing to declare can walk right through into the arrivals hall for buses, taxis, and access to the city's rail network. 

   
  
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    Level 2 corridor image by  Don Ramey Logan  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0.0 license

Level 2 corridor image by Don Ramey Logan via Wikimedia Commons, CC 0.0 license

   
  
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  Image by  Wing1990hk  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Wing1990hk via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

 Click to open the airport's facilities and gate map

Click to open the airport's facilities and gate map

Navigating the Airport

Both terminals are "H"-shaped, with two long concourses on either side, and a corridor connecting them inside the secure zone. Additionally, the Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 concourses are linked end-to-end, so Gate A9 is next to Gate D1 (and B9 is next to C1), so you could walk all the way around without exiting security, if you really wanted to.

China Airlines (and its Skyteam partners) uses most of the gates on the A and D concourses, while EVA Air (and its Star Alliance partners) takes Concourse C. Cathay Pacific is the main tenant at Concourse B, and many of the budget airlines and carriers not part of alliances also use these gates.

Both EVA Air and China Airlines use extensive code-sharing with other carriers, and sometimes put their codes on flights operated by other alliances (a China Airlines flight number operated by Japan Airlines, for instance) so always check the monitors for your specific gate.

   
  
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    Image by  Banbam1029  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Banbam1029 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Gates in Terminal 1 are of course older and don't hold quite as many people as those in Terminal 2, but all their technology is up-to-date, and the seating and artwork is all fresh. The airport continues to progressively remodel while Terminal 3 is under construction, so by the mid-2020s all three terminals will be at a similar standard.

Each pair of concourses is also linked by a Skytrain on Level 2, but they run in the sort-of-unsecured area, so you'd have to get screened again before coming back up to Level 3. This option really works only for travelers making international-to-international connections.

   
  
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    Image by  prayitnophotography  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by prayitnophotography via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

   
  
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  Image by  Chongkian  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Chongkian via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Family Friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

TPE has put a lot of thought into features to reduce stress and engage travelers (especially families!) with elements of nature, art, games, and popular culture. Kids who have several hours to burn before a flight will have plenty to explore:

  • A butterfly garden near gate A4
  • A "sports park" by gate D1
  • Gate D2 has a video game center
  • Art galleries near gates B8 and B3, at several points in the Concourse A-B connector hall, C2, and D5
  • "Landscape Lounges" near gates C9-C10, D1, and in the Concourse C-D connector hall
  • Little libraries near A7 and B7
  • Indoor playground near gate D8
  • Exhibits from the Natural Museum of History in both terminals' departure halls
  • Taiwan Cultural Experience area near D3
 Image by  ltdccba  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Image by ltdccba via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

And then there's Hello Kitty. EVA Air has had a long and happy relationship with Sanrio and has painted a number of their long-range and short-range aircraft with Sanrio characters, including of course their most famous cat. The interiors of these jets are also decorated, and the meals and even the flight attendants' uniforms also carry the theme. You'll probably see a few of these planes while taxiing in or waiting for your outbound flight!

 Image by  Karl Baron  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Karl Baron via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

There's a portion of the check-in area in Terminal 2 set up in a Hello Kitty theme, and gate C3 is completely decked out in pastels and rainbows, with a play area for the kids. There's a large Sanrio gift shop just next door with exclusive items! (Here's a recent review on the One Mile At a Time blog about the experience...)

 Image by  Gerode_  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Gerode_ via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Restrooms

While there aren't designated 'family' restrooms in the terminals or gate areas, there are several nursery facilities which include cots and hot water dispensers: in the secure zone, these are near gates A7, B6, and C8, as well as in the connecting corridor in Terminal 2. There are also several nurseries in the landslide portions of Terminals 1 and 2.

Travelers' reviews of TPE's restrooms consistently say they are among the cleanest and best-maintained in East Asia.

 Courtesy Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Co.

Courtesy Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Co.

Food and Shopping

In addition to the Hello Kitty experience, there are other toy shops in the departure area as well: "Wonderland" near gate D7, and two "Kidland" stores near gates A5 and B7.

As is the case for most big international airports, a great many shops at TPE are of the luxury goods / jewelry / electronics / liquor / perfume and cosmetics duty-free persuasion. But keep an eye open for several local-goods and handcrafted markets scattered across both terminals: these specialize in unique small gifts and souvenirs for travelers to take home.

Terminal 2 has a large food court on Level 4 above the connecting corridor, overlooking the atrium. Fast-food outlets there include Burger King and MOS Burger, Starbucks and Gloria Jean's. Of course, there are numerous Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese options.

Terminal 1 was not built with a food court in the secure zone (although there is one in the basement below the baggage claim area if you want to eat before leaving the airport.)

All four concourses also have a number of food stalls and coffee stands.

   
  
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    Image by  Wei-Te Wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Wei-Te Wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Connectivity

Both terminals have stations on the city's MRT light-rail system, and two lines serve the airport (with departures every 5 minutes at peak times): the Airport Express line (Purple), which is a limited-stop service that takes about 35 minutes to reach the main rail terminal downtown, and the Blue Line, which has more stops enroute to the city and takes about 40-45 minutes. (The Blue Line serving the airport is not the same Blue Line as inside the city proper.)

Wi-Fi is available for free throughout the terminal, though you may need to find one of the internet lounges scattered across the concourses for a strong connection.

Lodging

If you need a short stay, the Novotel Taipei is a 5-minute shuttle ride from the terminals, and features family-friendly rooms and a heated indoor swimming pool. It's situated for great views of landings and takeoffs, too.

Also see:

What Your Kids Should Eat - Taipei

Our "Taipei" folder on Pinterest

Our "Taiwan outside Taipei" folder on Pinterest

Taipei-Taoyuan Airport's official website (in English)

 

Taipei downtown sunset view by Jorge Cancela via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Hong Kong - HKG

Crossroads of the world, front door to all China.

Since the 1950’s, Hong Kong has been the West’s primary gateway to Mainland China. Strong financial and manufacturing sectors, well-developed ground-transport structure, transparent legal and regulatory systems, and liberal access to foreign carriers has ensured this city’s strong flight links.

For US and Canadian travelers, Hong Kong’s position at the ocean end of the Pearl River Delta with fast access to Guangzhou, Shenzhen,  - and no 3rd country visa issues - has made it a comfortable transit point. With plenty of kid-friendly attractions (such as a Disneyland,) familiar foods and hotel chains, and many English-speaking residents, it is ideally-positioned to help travelers re-integrate to the West before heading home.

Of course, Hong Kong is itself one of the great cities in the world - its food, culture, and natural environment are unique and exciting. The city was a British colony, so English signage and literature can be found everywhere; you'll have no problem shopping, seeing the sights, or using mass transit.

 Logos and trademarks are property of their respective airlines.

Logos and trademarks are property of their respective airlines.

Service Overview

Heading out from Hong Kong, hometown carrier Cathay Pacific (airline code CX) (oneworld alliance) reaches most of the major connecting points in North America with multiple flights each day. For instance, in Winter-Spring 2016, New York has 4 daily flights to JFK and 1 to Newark, Los Angeles 4 times per day, Vancouver and San Francisco twice daily. They also fly into Chicago, Boston, and Toronto. CX is a partner with American Airlines, who just launched their own Dallas/Ft. Worth - Hong Kong nonstop.

 Image of Cathay Pacific's special livery "Spirit of Hong Kong" Boeing 777-300 by  Masakatsu Ukon  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image of Cathay Pacific's special livery "Spirit of Hong Kong" Boeing 777-300 by Masakatsu Ukon via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Local competition for Cathay Pacific comes in the form of Hong Kong Airlines, owned by HNA Corporation (who also owns Hainan Airlines.) Hong Kong Airlines intends to expand its Transpacific service and has opened nonstops to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and (in March 2018) San Francisco.

 Image by  Joe Hsu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Joe Hsu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Across the Pacific, United (Star Alliance) flies nonstop daily to their hubs in San Francisco, Chicago, and Newark. Singapore Airlines (Star Alliance) gets a daily nonstop to San Francisco, too. Delta (SkyTeam alliance) has nonstops to its Seattle hub. Air Canada (Star Alliance) jets nonstop daily to both Vancouver and Toronto. Korean Air (SkyTeam) and Asiana (Star Alliance) offer many seats through Seoul-Incheon and convenient connections to numerous cities in North America. Japan Airlines (oneworld) and All Nippon Airways (Star Alliance) both route through Tokyo.

Service into China

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) now enjoys nonstop service to many inland cities, especially in the south, including Changsha, Nanning, Hefei, Chongqing, Xi’an, Kunming, and Chengdu.  Local carriers Cathay Dragon (a oneworld alliance partner and subsidiary of Cathay Pacific) and Hong Kong Airlines, plus all the mainland carriers such as China Southern, Xiamen Airlines, and China Eastern (from the SkyTeam alliance), and Air China and Shenzhen Airlines (both Star Alliance) all compete on these cross-border services. 

As most of these flights leave Hong Kong during daylight hours - and most overseas flights arrive in the evening - you’ll probably have to spend a night here if entering China this way.

Close-in Pearl River Delta city Guangzhou itself is linked to HKIA with only a few flights, but there are hourly express trains, numerous coach services, and even high-speed ferries connecting the two cities. Shenzhen is a massive city literally on the border with Hong Kong, so only buses, trains, and ferry services are needed. High-speed rail is being laid to connect Hong Kong with other key areas in Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian provinces - once running, they'll offer transit times on par with flying.

Customs Arrival

Leaving your aircraft, you’ll take a ramp from the gate down to the arrivals level. From there you’ll follow the moving sidewalk to a very large Customs hall. Dozens of passport-check desks help keep the lines short - usually less than a 5-minute wait.  The baggage claim hall lies just a few steps past the passport desks; picking up your luggage is easy and waiting times are usually short - some reviewers have said their bags were on the carrousel by the time they got there; we waited about 10 minutes on our recent trip.

From the baggage claim area you’ll work through a hallway where there are currency-exchange desks and out into the massive “meet & greet hall”. There are restaurants and shops here, hotel information desks, and passageways to the bus gates and Airport Express / MTR train station.

International Connections

If Hong Kong is simply a connecting point to another destination, instead of heading in to the passport desks, follow the signage for the departures level, and go through a security screen before heading to your gate. HKIA does not make you go through Customs for connecting flights.

 Click on this graphic to open a PDF of the airport facilities (Airport Authority Hong Kong)

Click on this graphic to open a PDF of the airport facilities (Airport Authority Hong Kong)

Navigating the Airport

When leaving Hong Kong, you'll note that check-in counters are spread across two buildings: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, which lie on either side of the main roadway and train station.  Terminal 1 is where most of the major international carriers’ counters are located; Terminal 2 tends to serve the low-cost airlines and carriers from Southeast Asia. Each terminal has its own immigration and security checkpoints, but both terminals feed into the same gate complex.

Since all flights leaving HKIA are international, you’ll go through two checkpoints: the first for passport control, and then a conventional security scan (no body scanners here, just the old-fashioned magnetic detectors.) Don’t be alarmed to see heavily-armed police roaming the check-in and security zone - although this may be the only place in peaceful Hong Kong you see a military presence. 

HKIA is a massive operation, but centered on a simple Y-shaped main concourse. Moving sidewalks run right down the middle, and there is also an underground tram running from below the terminal security checkpoint to the center of the “Y” and then on to a remote concourse, called the "Skypier".

Each gate on the main and remote concourses is designed to handle jumbo jets, with plenty of seating. This makes the spacing between gates quite large - much further than you would think by looking at a map. Even using the moving sidewalks, figure a 20-minute hike from the security checkpoint out to one of the ends of the “Y”.

There are a few gates snuggled up against the terminal building which are dedicated to Cathay Pacific. Delta flights usually dock in the middle of the straight stretch; United is typically located out on the southwest leg of the “Y”.  Gate assignments will vary, however, so pay attention to the staff at check-in and the big departure monitors.

Shorter-haul flights into mainland China often depart from the newer “North Satellite Concourse” which is connected to the main building by bus from near the central security checkpoint.

When boarding your flight, have your passports ready as there will be one more document cross-check on the jetway. They will also be searching your carry-on bags, and will confiscate any liquids bigger than 3 oz/100 mL, regardless of if they were purchased in the gate area or not.  Very frustrating...so finish your coffee before boarding, and plan on keeping formula as powder until you can get hot water when airborne.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Hong Kong loves kids, and HKIA is no exception. If you have time, in the pre-security area of Terminal 2, top level, there are several attractions for older kids and grown-ups:

  • Aviation Discovery Centre and Sky Deck
  • PlayStation(R) Gateway (free games!)
  • 4-D Extreme Screen Cinema

The shops in Terminal 2 include several of interest to children, including an Exploration Store, Play ‘n Go, and a Disney Store.

Post-security, there’s another Disney Store in the East Hall shopping and restaurant complex (the area just after you get through security).

In the gate area, there are TV lounges near gates 1, 15, 40, and 60 and a large children’s playspace by gate 25 (more tuned for toddlers, though - no slides or climbing equipment.)

The wide-open concourse and big gate areas give plenty of room for youngsters to move around and burn off energy. The vast windows provide an awesome view of aircraft, the harbor, and Lantau Island (try to find the cable cars stretching over the mountain up to the Ngong Ping monastery!)

HKIA has placed artwork and cultural materials throughout the gate areas and much of it is fascinating to kids. The giant silver egg just before the escalators to the gate level compels children to touch it!

In the “hidden gems” category are the “resting lounges” near gates 61, 41-43, and 32-34. These are quiet garden spots with padded lounge chairs, great for stretching out and perhaps even taking a little nap.

If your flight leaves early in the morning, another “gem” is having the entire gate complex essentially all to yourself - a rare treat in this crowded city, and something you won’t get on a cramped airplane for the next 10 to 20 hours.

Restrooms

Family restrooms are generously spread throughout the terminals and gate areas, are spacious and well-equipped. Some even have seating inside.

Regular restrooms are functional and well-maintained, with adequate stall space but not much room for stowing your bag or coat. They can accomodate an A380-load of passengers quickly, however.

Pay attention to toilet seats - they are cleaned aggressively with strong chemicals. Make sure seats are dry to avoid irritation!

Of special note are the restrooms in the “meet and greet” public area in Terminal 1. There are “family stalls” in both the men’s and women’s facilities which are extra-large, have changing tables, and handsomely decorated with Hong Kong scenes.

Squat toilets can be found in the public areas of the terminal buildings; however, all the toilets in the gate area are Western-variety. 

 Photo by  準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Food and Shopping

HKIA might as well be called a shopping mall with parking for airplanes. In the gate areas alone there are over 90 shops and about two dozen restaurants, plus dozens more stores and eateries in the two terminals pre-security.

Granted, many of the shops are of the Hermes / Burberry / Coach / Prada luxury tier, with plenty of jewelry, cosmetics, and shoe options at the expensive end. However, there are also a number of newsstands, convenience stores, and general gift shops as well, plus the kids’ specialty stores as described earlier.

Food choices are incredible, and you could easily spend a full day at HKIA simply trying everything. In the East Hall there is a McDonald’s and Popeye’s Chicken; Starbucks near gates 21 and 44, and an illy espresso stand near gate 30. And then there are noodle shops, sushi stands, traditional Chinese cafes, congee houses, seafood and caviar restaurants, bakeries and sweet shops...

A singular frustration with the dining and shopping are the opening hours - stores generally don’t open until 7:00 am at the earliest - many not opening until 8:00. The McDonald’s and Starbucks are 24-hour operations, but even the magazine stands don’t open until 7 - which means many early-morning departing passengers don’t have a chance to get breakfast or pick up reading material and last-minute supplies.

Connectivity

Wi-fi is free and strong throughout the terminal. There are also several cafes and restaurants with Internet stations, and electrical charging areas can be found at numerous points.

Rail links from HKIA come in the form of the Airport Express, with high-speed service to Kowloon and Central, and the conventional MTR subway, with which you can connect to most of the territory’s rail network through several intermediate stations. There are also several companies providing double-decker bus service to various hotels and neighborhoods around the city, and depending on your destination, can actually be faster than the MTR.

Also see:

What Your Kids Should Eat - Hong Kong

Impressions of Hong Kong - Stanley

Our Pinterest page on Hong Kong

Seoul Incheon - ICN

 Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Easy for families to use; broad reach to all parts of East Asia.

Seoul’s original international airport, Gimpo, had served the city well up through the 1980s, but after the Olympics in 1988, it became clear that the country’s economic expansion was going to overwhelm that facility. An ambitious development plan was put into action to convert islands about 45 miles from downtown into an offshore mega-airport that would be able to operate 24 hours a day without bothering neighborhoods, handle flights without worrying about pesky mountains, and be able to expand as needed.

In 2001 the new international airport, Incheon, opened, and Gimpo was turned into a domestic-only facility (although some services to places like Tokyo-Haneda Airport and Shanghai-Hongqiao Airport have since been re-introduced.)

Despite the currency shock, SARS crisis, 9/11, recurring antagonism from North Korea, and global recession of the 2000s, the South Korean economy continues to grow strongly, and as a result, Incheon Airport added a remote concourse in 2008, and the eagerly-anticipated second terminal which opened in January 2018, just before that year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

 Image via  Cameron Henderson  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Cameron Henderson on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

ICN is home to two major international carriers, Korean Air and Asiana. Korean Air is a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance (Delta, Air France / KLM, China Eastern, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, and more) and Asiana belongs to the Star Alliance (United, Lufthansa, ANA, Air China, Air Canada, and more.) 

For traveling families, Incheon is an attractive stopover point, both inbound and outbound. And South Korea itself has become a popular destination, from Seoul's shopping and pop culture, to Busan's seaside charm, to Jeju's semi-tropical laid-back island vibe. High-speed rail now blankets the mainland cities, and English signage and speakers are becoming more common.

 Logos are trademarks of their respective airlines. Consult carriers for specific schedules.

Logos are trademarks of their respective airlines. Consult carriers for specific schedules.

Asiana and Korean Air combined offer outstanding access to interior China; most of these cities can be reached with same-day connections from North America. Guiyang, Harbin, and Macao are recent additions to the map. (Click to enlarge.)

Incheon offers better connectivity to more Japanese airports than can be had through Tokyo-Narita, including several low-cost carriers. (Click to enlarge.)

Service Overview

Seoul has positioned itself as the leading connection hub between North America and East Asia with its 24-hour operation and lower costs than Tokyo or Osaka, liberal traffic rights to encourage more airlines to start service, and aggressive expansion by both Korean Air and Asiana (and their respective low-cost subsidiaries). In fact, it is often easier to connect to many Japanese cities through ICN than via Narita.

Currently 14 airports in North America are served nonstop from ICN; the SkyTeam and Star Alliance partners each coordinate schedules for maximum connecting opportunities in Korea as well as in North America. As of Winter 2017-18, Los Angeles enjoys 5 daily departures to Seoul; San Francisco has four, and New York has three; up to 29 nonstops per day overall.

Delta and Korean Air finally signed a joint-venture agreement in 2017, and pending government approvals, will dramatically expand their code-share arrangements. Already the carriers have added a second daily flight to the Incheon-Atlanta route. This may also lead to additional cities in North America getting nonstop service to Korea (watch this space!)

American Airlines (of the oneworld alliance) runs Dallas/Ft.Worth - Seoul nonstops.

Hawaiian Air (not part of an alliance) has a daily nonstop from Honolulu.

Korean Air's low-cost subsidiary Jin Air has started nonstops to Honolulu to cater to the Korean vacation market; it is likely that budget carriers will reach North America soon (although with reduced legroom and baggage allowance); the overall impact should be to bring family-travel fares down.

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

While Incheon Airport now has two separate terminals, the arrival and transfer process is quite similar for each building.

Much like Tokyo-Narita or many European airports, passengers transferring between flights and not leaving the airport do not have to go through Customs. After disembarking from your arriving aircraft, you’ll descend to Level 2.

Arriving at Terminal 1 or the remote concourse, you’ll then go immediately through a security screening. Follow the “transfer” signs back up to Level 3 and the departure gates, or head downstairs to take the shuttle train if you have to change buildings.

Arriving at Terminal 2, if you are connecting to another flight in the same building, you’ll go through security on Level 2 and then head upstairs. If your next flight is on the remote concourse or in Terminal 1, you’ll bypass security and instead head downstairs to the shuttle train. You’ll go through security once you get to the other building.

If you are stopping over or staying in Korea, instead of the security check you’ll pass through a quarantine scan (thermal imaging to see if you our your kids have a fever) and then proceed to passport control. Baggage claim and the declarations counter are on the ground floor; bus stops are just beyond. Across the airport access road is the massive ground transport center including the train station.

Reviews from travelers praise Incheon for speedy Customs and baggage retrieval - 15 to 30 minutes most commonly quoted for the entire process.

 Transfer maps via Incheon Int'l Airport Corporation

Transfer maps via Incheon Int'l Airport Corporation

ICN-transfer-T1toT2.png
ICN-transfer-T2toT1.png
ICN-transfer-withinT2.png
 Image via  Angelo Juan Ramos  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Angelo Juan Ramos on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Click to enlarge. Image via Google Earth

Navigating the Airport

With the opening of Terminal 2, ICN is nearly doubling its capacity, and opening the door for both the SkyTeam airline alliance (in particular Korean Air, Delta, Air France-KLM) and the Star Alliance (particularly Asiana, United, Air Canada, ANA-All Nippon, and Air China) to both build globe-spanning hub operations.

Now each of these alliances has its own giant terminal:

  • Asiana and many Star Alliance flights now control Terminal 1
  • Korean Air, its Transpacific joint-venture partner Delta, and Air France-KLM now control Terminal 2
  • Oneworld (American, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines) and unaffiliated carriers, plus a few Star and SkyTeam flights, are left to the remote concourse

Within Terminal 1, or within Terminal 2, moving sidewalks and an efficient layout make the average walk between connecting flights only 10-15 minutes.

The remote concourse is located between the terminals and an underground shuttle tram connects them all. It runs every 5 minutes, and takes just 2 minutes to travel between Terminal 1 and the concourse; about 4 minutes from the concourse to Terminal 2.

 Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Because of the airport’s efficient layout, automation, and staff training, connection times between international flights of just 45 minutes are possible; in practice, most same-day connections are scheduled for about 75 - 90 minutes.

Gate areas are all configured to handle jumbo jets and feature large seating areas.

 Image via  Tzuhsun Hsu  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Tzuhsun Hsu on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Incheon has clearly been built with traveling families’ needs in mind! The airport boasts an astounding fourteen different large play areas for kids, including slides and places to climb. In Terminal 1 these are located near gates 9, 14, 41, 45 and on either end of the fourth floor. On the remote concourse they can be found near gates 111 and 121. And in Terminal 2 they are close to gates 231, 242, 246, 254, 257, and 268.

 Image via  Tzuhsun Hsu  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Tzuhsun Hsu on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

There are ten dedicated nurseries with private quiet areas and bottle-warming equipment in the secure zone; these are next to the play areas on the remote concourse; on the fourth floor and also near gates 25 and 30 on the third floor of Terminal 1; and near gates 231, 243, 257, and 268 in Terminal 2. (There are also nursing areas in the land-side areas of each terminal.)

Two movie / TV-watching lounges are set up on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1. There are also free large lounge areas set up on Terminal 1’s fourth floor (called the “Rest & Relax Zone”) where you can stretch out in comfy reclining chairs for a nap or airplane-watching.

Terminal 2 incorporates similar areas as well as a large indoor garden, an “observatory” for watching the runways and airplanes, and a “Great Hall” for music and theatrical performances.

 Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

“Experience Traditional Korea” is a unique and really fun feature for families; located near gates 24 and 31 in Terminal 1, and also with two locations in Terminal 2, these centers help introduce many of Korea’s art, craft, and entertainment traditions. Stages are set up for performances, and guides in traditional clothing will help you create your own paper or woodcraft artwork to take home!

On the fourth floor of the remote concourse, the Cultural Museum of Korea features curated artworks from many centuries; there are also small exhibition halls of traditional crafts on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1.

Should your connection give you several hours between flights, Incheon Airport runs several different FREE "transit tours" ranging from 1 hour to 5 hours - delivered in English, with transportation provided - visiting the local community, temples, and even downtown Seoul!

If your connection requires an overnight or extended-daytime layover, the Walkerhill Airport Transit Hotel has locations in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Each sits above the main building and is available in 6-hour blocks (even just 4-hour blocks for the Terminal 2 location). Standard double or twin rooms, plus deluxe / suite rooms are available. These hotels are entirely within the secure zone so you do not have to go through any additional scanning to use it.

Restrooms

Numerous toilet facilities are spread throughout the gate and lounge areas; all are equipped for handicapped access and baby-changing. While none are labeled “family restrooms,” the handicapped stalls are easily large enough to manage your child and luggage.

Free shower facilities are also available, if you have time and want to freshen up after a long flight. Two of these facilities are located on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 (with a third location in the center of Terminal 2’s fourth floor), and one is found on the fourth floor of the remote concourse; they are open 7 am - 9 pm.

 Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Food and Shopping

Shopping choices in the secure area - like many Asian airports - are decidedly tilted toward luxury goods and brand names like Gucci, Burberry, Prada, and Swarovski; there are shops with packaged snacks, magazines, and toys but these are all incorporated in the duty-free stores run by one of the Korean retailers Shilla, Lotte, or KTO. Shops are clustered in the middle portion of the remote concourse and along the terminal-side portion of both Terminals 1 and 2.

Food choices are much more diverse and exciting - and spread evenly across the gate areas. Big food courts are located on the east and west sides of the main building in Terminals 1 and 2, and in the central part of the concourse, plus dozens of stand-alone shops scattered elsewhere.

Most of the leading international fast-food and coffee-shop chains are represented, plus Korea’s leading chains and numerous independent cafes. Italian, French, sushi, and Chinese cuisines are well-represented and of course traditional Korean options.

 KTX express train arriving! Courtesy IIAC

KTX express train arriving! Courtesy IIAC

Connectivity

Free WiFi is available throughout both terminals and the remote concourse; in addition, there are two free Internet lounges on the concourse (near gates 111 and 124), four in the main building of Terminal 1 (two on the fourth floor, one near gate 24, and one near gate 30), and two in Terminal 2 (fourth floor, on the east and west sides of the duty-free shopping area).

A commuter rail line connects both Incheon terminals with the domestic airport Gimpo, and continues to downtown Seoul (with stops in several other neighborhoods as well.) You also have the option of the KTX express train running nonstop from Incheon (both terminals) to downtown (Geomam and Seoul Station). These lines connect to a great portion of the Seoul Metro as well as the country’s growing high-speed rail network.

Numerous shuttle buses also connect Incheon to most of the city’s hotels and key transit stations, and even outlying cities. These presently use Terminal 1 as their hub, but there is a free shuttle bus connecting the terminals that runs every 5 minutes.

Lodging

In addition to the Walkerhill Airport Transit Hotel, there are several other family-friendly chain properties nearby with free shuttles from Terminal 1:

Best Western Premier

Grand Hyatt

Paradise City

Nest Hote

Also see:

Our Pinterest page on Seoul

Our Pinterest page on Korea, outside Seoul

Tokyo Narita - NRT

 Photo by  Kentaro IEMOTO  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Kentaro IEMOTO via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Japan's front door: efficient, and welcoming; a showcase for culture and commerce.

As your flight crosses the shoreline on approach to NRT, immediately you know something is different. The farms and houses below you are precisely arranged. The streets and highways look as if they were just installed, without potholes or patches. Everything is ... so geometric and, well, clean. The sensation continues as you land and taxi to your gate. The ground workers shuttle about in immaculate jumpsuits. No trash blowing around, no decaying concrete, no abandoned airplanes or rusting vehicles. The carts and trucks are arranged-just-so, in a way that you can intuitively sense is both practiced and engineered for precision.

The staff you encounter in the terminal, from security to shopkeepers, are real people; professional but genuine. Whether you're coming to Japan to visit, or just passing through, it's clear that everyone at Narita understands their role as ambassadors for their entire country.

Logos and trademarks are property of their respective airlines. Click image to expand.

Service overview

Tokyo has been the logical and traditional landing point for flights from North America since the end of WWII; it's the first major city on the Great Circle Route and as such was the fastest way to Asia. Northwest Airlines pioneered the route up through the Yukon and Alaska, then down along the Aleutian Islands, and helped set up the Japanese air system after the war.

While today's efficient aircraft allow carriers to bypass Japan for nonstops to China, Korea, and beyond, there is still plenty of demand for travel to Japan itself - and many connecting opportunities to destinations throughout East and Southeast Asia.

Currently Tokyo-Narita is linked nonstop to 18 airports in Canada and the US 50 states, with up to 47 flights *per day*, and 9 carriers competing for passenger business. NRT is a hub location for the three big airline alliances:

  • Star Alliance, with ANA-All Nippon, United, and Air Canada
  • oneworld, with Japan Airlines and American
  • Skyteam, with Delta, China Airlines, and Korean Air

Hawaiian Air, not linked to an alliance, began service in Summer 2016.

Connections to other cities inside Japan are provided by ANA and Japan Airlines and their subsidiaries; however, there aren't many flights, and not many cities are covered - and those that are offered are usually on small aircraft. Most travelers will make the two-hour overland journey to Tokyo's "in-town" airport, Haneda, for domestic flights, or will opt for the many train services.

Beyond Japan, into East and Southeast Asia, the three airline alliances offer broad connecting options with even more partner carriers:

  • United flies to Guam and Singapore. ANA-All Nippon flies to dozens of destinations throughout the region. Their Star Alliance partners are Asiana to Korea, Air China and Shenzhen Air into the PRC, EVA Air to Taiwan, Thai Airways, and Singapore Airlines. 
  • Japan Airlines also connects dozens of cities; American does not fly onward from Japan. Oneworld partners are Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair to Hong Kong, plus Malaysia Airlines.
  • Delta flies to Bangkok, Manila, and Singapore. Its Skyteam partners are China Eastern and China Southern to the PRC, Korean Air, China Airlines to Taiwan, Garuda Indonesia, and Vietnam Airlines.

There are also non-alliance carriers such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Hainan Airlines serving Narita which you may connect to.

 Photo by  Wei-Te Wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Wei-Te Wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

International-to-international connections at NRT are simple; everyone leaving the aircraft is directed (up one floor in Terminal 1, down one floor in Terminal 2), through a simple security checkpoint and scan, and then back out to the gate area. Depending on how many flights are unloading at the same time, this can take as little as 10 minutes - they keep the lines moving!

For entering Japan, again you'll change one floor after leaving the aircraft, but instead of going through security, instead follow the signs to go to the well-staffed Immigration counters. Lines for passport checks are rarely more than 5-10 minutes. You'll go down one more floor to baggage claim; if you have nothing to declare, hand your declaration form in at the green counter and exit to the ground-transportation area in the arrival lobby.

For leaving Japan, the passport check and security scans are also very fast; 5-15 minutes for the whole process. 

 Click on this image to open the Narita Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 guide maps. (Narita Airport Authority)

Click on this image to open the Narita Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 guide maps. (Narita Airport Authority)

Navigating the Airport

Narita now has three terminals: Terminals 1 and 2 are for traditional long-haul carriers and a limited amount of domestic connecting flights: Terminal 1 is mostly for flights from the Star Alliance (United, ANA-All Nippon, Air Canada) and Skyteam (Delta, China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, Korean Air); while Terminal 2 is home to the oneworld alliance (American, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific). Terminal 3 is dedicated to the low-cost budget airlines flying mostly short hops in Japan and selected Asian destinations; these flights usually don't connect with the long-haul services from North America, so we will just concentrate on Terminals 1 and 2 in this article.

On the concourse (Level 3 in both Terminals 1 and 2), you have full access to all the gate areas, restaurants, and shopping inside the security zone. This is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and get some fresh, hot food. You won’t have a lot of time to explore the place if you are connecting flights; about 80-120 minutes, but it’s enough to pick up some souvenirs and resupply your carry-on bag with bottled water and snacks. Unlike China or Hong Kong, in Japan you may definitely bring anything on board your international-bound aircraft that you have purchased inside the security zone.

Terminal 1’s layout is roughly shaped like a sideways letter “K”, with one half devoted to the SkyTeam carriers and the other to Star Alliance. Terminal 2 is made of two long parallel concourses, with a tunnel & bridge connecting them at the halfway point.

Moving sidewalks are deployed in several places, and they’re necessary for covering the longer distances between connecting gates. They also segregate passengers who are in a hurry, which makes all the hallways and shopping areas flow more smoothly.

Two points on the sidewalks:

  1. In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road. So you want to take the moving sidewalk on the left side of the hallway.

  2. The sidewalks move with a little more zip than we’re used to in America. Still a safe speed, but you need to pay attention.

If you should need to transfer between Terminal 1 and 2, shuttle buses are available inside the security zone. There is no tram system to connect the far-flung terminals and gate areas.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

In both terminals there are several places for toddlers to romp and burn off energy:

  • Terminal 1 features a kids’ playroom between gates 26-27. Not much there in the way of equipment, but soft furniture, toys, and space for running around. There are also “kids’ parks” near gates 41 and 51.
  • Terminal 2 offers playrooms in the central food/shopping court of the main concourse, between gates 76-77 on the main concourse, and on the satellite between gates 81-83.

There are convenient nursing rooms for a bit of quiet and privacy:

  • In Terminal 1, between gates 11-12, 21-22, 26-27, near 35, 41, 51, 52, and 57.
  • In Terminal 2, on the main concourse near gate 65, 76, and in the central food/shopping court; on the satellite near gate 92.

And in Terminal 1, there is a great little toy shop at the far end of the South Wing (gate 51-56 area) that specializes in Japanese anime, video game, and scale model items. 

If you have enough time between flights to exit the secure zone (say a 3 hour gap - you will have to clear Japanese immigration), or have time before your flight if you've been staying in Japan, the free outdoors observation deck is extraordinary. Japanese airports are generally excellent about providing the public with great views of the action, and few airports have as diverse a mix of carriers and aircraft as Narita. Both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 have these decks - they have plenty of seating and are a great place for a picnic, or for kids to run around a bit, too.

Unique, free cultural exhibits that kids will really enjoy include the "Kabuki Experience Gallery" in Terminal 1 near gate 27, and the Nippon Origami Museum, Terminal 1 near gate 26. Both of these  galleries have plenty to look at, as well as souvenir-shopping opportunities. They're great ways to spend a half-hour.

In the “hidden gems” category, Narita has set up several out-of-the-way lounge areas with reclining seats, including the lower level beneath the gate 21-25 concourse in Terminal 1 (take the elevator down), and also beneath gates 76-77 in Terminal 2 (again, take the elevator.)

In Terminal 1, between gates 26-27, there is also a lounge area with benches, soft carpet, and indirect lighting. This area stays very calm despite the crowd moving all around it.

One can usually find unoccupied gate areas, even during the major connecting banks, by walking a few minutes - or even just around the corner.

Restrooms

The restrooms are plentiful, and about the cleanest places you’ve ever seen. Plenty of space in the stalls; if you need to bring your toddler in with you, she can walk around - they are that spacious. The big restrooms in the main concourses even have a few stalls set up as “squatty potties,” if you are daring enough to try.

Stalls, however, do not have shelving to keep bags up off the floor. There aren't "family restrooms" as we have them in North America - part of this is offset by how big the stalls are, and part of this is offset by the several nurseries which offer changing space for toddlers.

Uniquely. there are also "changing rooms" associated with most of the restrooms in the gate areas; these have fully-closable doors and hook space - as well as a toilet - so that travelers can change clothes after a long flight. You'll have to pay attention for the signs but this is also a kid-friendly feature.

Food and Shopping

Dining options are surprisingly not plentiful in the gate areas of either terminal. (Terminal 1’s pre-security food court is legendary, but you won’t be able to access it when connecting between flights.) Narita has replaced international chain restaurants and fast-food places in the secure zone with local vendors and a focus on local cuisine; not that that is necessarily a bad thing - Japanese food is tasty, fast, and no more expensive than Western food - grilled meats and noodle dishes are definitely familiar. Even Starbucks has been exiled to the pre-security zone; the only Western outlets remaining are the McDonald’s in Terminal 1, near gate 26, and a Tulley's Coffee in Terminal 2, near gate 62.

Shopping options are stacked toward the duty-free luxury goods / electronics / cosmetics / alcohol & tobacco categories; however there are also general giftshops in several places in each terminal that sell packaged foods, ice cream, and drinks along with souvenirs and media. Each terminal also features a decent-sized bookstore with a substantial selection of Western reading materials - AND - Japanese manga that your kids will already know about.

Be sure to stock up on "only-in-Japan" gifts and snacks for friends and family back home - such as the KitKat bars in many unique flavors!

Credit cards are happily accepted. Also, note signs in certain places for where US $ are accepted. You’ll get change in Japanese Yen - something more for your scrapbook! And you can use those coins in the many vending machines out by the gates for extra snacks and drinks for your onward flight...

Connectivity

Free WiFi is available across the airport! And charging points are rolled out through all the gate and walkway areas. You may also use internet kiosks scattered around the terminals (100 yen for 10 minutes) - an old-fashioned approach, but if you need to do a quick Facebook post or send an email and don't have your phone or laptop handy, it's another option.

 Photo by  James Abbott  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by James Abbott via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

If you’re stopping or staying in Tokyo, there is a substantial network of rail services now available to most of the city’s major rail terminals. Narita also is served by a network of frequent bus services which connect with most of the major hotels; it's about an hour into the city, plus connecting time to get to the neighborhood you want to be in.

Also see:

Airport Guide for Tokyo's Haneda Airport

Our Pinterest page on Tokyo

Our Pinterest page on Yokohama

Impressions of… Tokyo – Harajuku

Impressions of… Tokyo – Meiji Jingu