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

Image by KC Shih via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

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

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

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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