Airport take-off

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 January, 1999, 12:00am

To start the first full working week of the new year with some good news is something even optimists might not have expected. Especially when the reason for the high note is Chek Lap Kok.

After dominating the headlines in such a negative way for the past six months, the airport is still the subject of two more inquiries into its chaotic opening, so it will be some time yet before the dust of that disaster settles.

However, while the post mortems have been going on in public, behind the scenes the airport has begun to function quietly in the way that was, perhaps a little unrealistically, expected from the outset. Regular travellers have confirmed that fact for some months.

A survey sponsored by the Airport Authority in August reported that out of 4,000 visitors, 93 per cent were satisfied with the service. But the accolade from Travel & Leisure magazine, which has given Hong Kong International Airport its annual Critics' Choice Award, is the most compelling confirmation yet that things are on the upturn.

It will take some while to dispel all the negative associations of the early days, but this is a most helpful signal.

The US magazine is highly influential among the international jet-setting community, and its assessment includes the opinions of some of the top firms in the travel industry. Their endorsement will spread the good word far beyond America.

But they are not the only ones to find something positive to say about the airport. Some admirers have been carried away by their enthusiasm, calling it the 'world's engineering achievement of the '90s' and heaping praise on the Airport Express.

Awards apart, perhaps the most significant development as far as the average Hong Kong frequent flyer is concerned comes with the news that, during the busiest day of the holiday season, staff coped smoothly with 100,000 passengers in a single day. That was the sort of efficient and seemingly effortless operation travellers accepted as a matter of course at Kai Tak. Now its successor appears to be finally settling into the same routine.

In 1999, Chek Lap Kok may become an airport Hong Kong can take justifiable pride in, after all.