Mix-ups, missed flights after Shenzhen airport opens new terminal

Authorities say it's "so far, so good" and many impressed by the sleek design, but several passengers complain of mixed-up flight times and having to dash to faraway gates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 9:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 3:26pm

What began as a smooth launch for Shenzhen Airport’s newly opened terminal began to hit some rough patches, as several passengers complained of missed flights and mix-ups on gate numbers.

The 8.5 billion yuan (HK$10.7 billion) terminal opened at 6am. The first take-off was made by home carrier Shenzhen Airlines flight ZH9853, bound for Hohhot in Inner Mongolia via Wuhan. It carried 165 passengers, who left at 7.53am.

Around noon, the airport authorities said all progress through the arrival gates, transit lounge, check-in counters, baggage carousel and customs was smooth, with no inordinate delays anywhere.

Hundreds of volunteers and ground crew offered assistance, and there were more than enough baggage carts. Dozens of golf carts circulated the lounge to give free rides for passengers in need.

Though the authorities said it had been a smooth and quick transfer from the old terminals of Baoan International Airport, many passengers reported some “glaring inadequacies” and hassles, along with complaints about the quality of service and the staff’s unfamiliarity with facets of the system.

At least seven passengers missed their flight to Hangzhou as airline employees informed them that their 9.15am departure would be delayed to 10.40am. However, the flight left at 9.50am while other passengers were shopping or having breakfast.

“It was totally a mess,” said He Yong, one of the passengers. “Everything was wrong. And the communications weren’t working.”

“We already had the boarding pass but were stopped on the way to the plane from the boarding gate. We were told the flight would be delayed until 10.40am,” He said. But 10 minutes after the passengers dispersed, the flight opened for boarding.

The crew made a last call for the missing passengers, but seven of them still missed the flight.

“No one came to give us an explanation. I missed an important meeting because of such a stupid human error and had to wait until 11.30am for another flight,” He said.

“We accepted their excuses and understood it would be not perfect at the first day,” He added.

There were frequent announcements by airline staff of changing boarding gate numbers, forcing passengers to move to new gates further away. It took them more than 30 minutes to reach the farthest gate from security check.

Other travellers complained that the walkalators only went in one direction, which meant they had to walk if they wanted to turn back the way they came.

“It’s too far,” said one passenger who was affected by a gate change. “It takes 20 minutes to get the gate 47. And now they ask me to move to gate 17.”

Soon after the opening, thousands of excited passengers filed into the airport, looking for spots for photos amid the 450,000-square-metre Italian-designed hub. Many passengers were impressed by the terminal design, whose shape is inspired by the manta ray.

“When you look up, you see thousands of hexagonal skylight windows. They bring natural light into anywhere the building,” Wendy Xu, one traveller, said.

“The design is very impressive, clean, bright and modern. But it’s a nightmare for those with trypophobia [the fear of repetitive patterns] if you look at the countless hexagonal skylight windows one by one,” she said. 

The debut

Flight attendants handed out a mini-plane model as souvenirs during an inauguration ceremony led by Shenzhen Mayor Xu Qin and other high-ranking government officials.

Yuan Jijun, a stewardess on the first flight, said the new terminal was much bigger, more luxurious and clearly had better facilities than the old terminals at Baoan International Airport.

“It’s a nice memory to be one of the first flight attendants. The terminal is such a beautiful building, making me proud of being a Shenzhen citizen,” Yuan said.

Song Huizhen, a passenger on the first flight out, said he left Dongguan city at 5.30am and completed check-in at the airport by 6.40am. “It’s very convenient for businessmen and residents to fly here,” he said.

The smooth transfer of operations in the first few hours must be a relief for the Shenzhen Airport operator, which is expected to service around 83,000 passengers today. To ensure a manageable load for its staff and systems on the first day, the operator cut the number of flights by 30 per cent and planned to keep cargo and passenger numbers down as well.

“So far, so good,” a Shenzhen Airport official had said this morning.

Watch: Take a virtual tour of the new terminal

This article was corrected at 3.26pm: the first flight out was at 7.53am, not 7.55am as earlier stated.