Usual share of Day 1 gremlins at Beijing's colossal Terminal 3

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am

The world's biggest building, Terminal 3 at the Beijing Capital International Airport, opened for business yesterday with passengers arriving to some missing signs, dirty toilets and empty shops.

But passengers seemed mostly forgiving of the first-day glitches, expressing how impressed they were by the structure's scale and appearance.

The terminal's immense floor area, equivalent to 170 soccer pitches, and extravagant design integrating Chinese elements greeted passengers boarding and arriving on six domestic and international carriers - Shandong Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Israel's El Al and Australia's Qantas.

Cathy Pacific, Dragonair and Macau airlines are scheduled to move into the new terminal on March 26 together with 17 other major international carriers.

The wait may be worth it for travellers on these later airlines, given the teething problems of the first day of formal operation.

A road sign declaring 'new commencement' was erected along the airport expressway to remind passengers to double-check their departure terminal numbers.

'But the characters are so small, and the sentence is so long that if I focus on reading the whole instruction while driving at 100km/h, I could end up in a car crash,' said Zhang Jian , who was catching a flight to Chongqing .

Mr Zhang's frustration was dissipated at the entrance to the terminal by a friendly information service woman. 'The information service is great,' he said. 'I have never met an airport employee who approaches people and asks if I need help and direction ... here, they are everywhere, very impressive.'

The terminal, designed by British architect Lord Foster, has about 1.3 million square metres, mostly under one roof. But it looked even bigger to Kally, from London, when she arrived on a British Airways flight around 3pm yesterday to find they were the only arrivals in the terminal.

'Everything looks great, and I am much impressed by the colour, lighting and ceiling. It surprises me that we don't have to walk a long distance given the enormous space,' she said.

But she did have some complaints. 'The first thing was the toilet. The flush didn't work. When I entered, the floor was flooded. It had been used, but no one cleaned it up.

'After I passed the passport counter, there was not a sign - in English at least - that tells us to board a light rail to get out. I spent more than 10 minutes looking for an exit.'

There was also no store for her to buy a SIM card for her phone.