Free showers, faster Wi-fi and revamped boarding gates at Hong Kong airport, but upgrades may be too little, too late
Experts say piecemeal changes pale in comparison to billion-dollar transformations regional competitors Seoul and Singapore have undergone
Free showers, faster Wi-fi and revamped boarding gates were some of the recent upgrades installed at Hong Kong International Airport as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
But an aviation expert has said these may be too little, too late, as the once-prestigious hub now risks losing out to growing competition from other airports in the region.
Since moving to Chek Lap Kok in July 1998, Hong Kong International Airport has taken home countless accolades and awards for its efficiency, service and security.
But delays to expansion plans have led to a slide in the airport’s performance, with Singapore’s Changi and Incheon in South Korea leapfrogging it in recent years.
The piecemeal upgrades pale in comparison to the billion-dollar transformations regional competitors have undergone.
Seoul Incheon, for example, opened the doors on its new HK$35 billion (US$4.6 billion) terminal last week, just in time for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Showcasing Hong Kong’s upgrades to the media for the first time on Thursday, the Airport Authority said the work was part of a facelift to give passengers a fresh experience.
The highlight was complimentary showers, which mainly serve transit passengers.
Located on the arrivals floor, the 10 cubicles are available 24 hours a day on a first-come, first-served basis.
Basic amenities are also provided, while extra toiletries can be bought from a vending machine.
The authority said an average of 100 passengers would use the service each day. It had no plans to add more around the airport, but would continue to monitor the response and demand.
Tech-savvy travellers, meanwhile, can make use of a new high-speed Wi-fi service which boasts download speeds of up to 400 megabits per second.
The free service is available from one of three spots near the boarding gates, to be expanded to 15 by the end of January.
Those caught in flight delays can also find some relief waiting at revamped sitting areas featuring redesigned chairs and phone charging ports.
Part of Incheon’s new Terminal Two also features high-speed Wi-fi and free showers, and even a “digital” workout gym area for passengers to get a bit of exercise.
Lee Jae-woon, a South Korean academic at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specialises in aviation development, said the Incheon expansion bolstered its attractiveness as a transit airport over Hong Kong.
“When promoting Incheon, airport officials can say your time here can be fun. Two, four, eight hours, your time spent can be a good time,” Lee said.
“That’s the message for Hong Kong. Your transit experience must be attractive when you are competing against other options and non-stop flights.”
The expansion and more modern facilities at Hong Kong airport will not be ready until 2024. They include a third runway and a second concourse designed to handle the soaring number of passengers, which reached 72.9 million in 2017.
Dr Law Cheung-kwok, director of policy at Chinese University’s Aviation Policy and Research Centre, said: “Hong Kong International Airport should definitely improve their services, with or without knowledge of what happens at Singapore Changi and Seoul Incheon.
“In the international ranking exercises, Hong Kong has been competing very severely against Incheon and Changi with respect to efficiency, comments and reaction from visitors. Definitely Hong Kong should be required to offer new services and install new facilities to improve.”