The arrival of Shenzhen airport's new Italian-designed terminal enjoyed a smooth take-off yesterday, but hit some turbulence when several passengers complained of missed flights and gate mix-ups.
Though authorities said it had been a smooth transfer from the old terminals at Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport, many passengers reported some glaring problems, with some complaining about the quality of service and the staff's unfamiliarity with the system.
Costing 8.5 billion yuan (HK$10.7 billion), the new terminal is designed to handle 45 million passengers a year by 2020, a 55 per cent increase from last year.
Many passengers were impressed by the terminal design, whose shape is inspired by a manta ray. The new terminal, a creation of Italian husband-and-wife architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, covers 450,000 square metres, about triple the size of the city's former terminals.
"When you look up, you see thousands of hexagonal skylight windows. They bring natural light everywhere into the building," said Wendy Xu, a Shanghai resident on a business trip to Shenzhen. "The design is very impressive, clean, bright and modern. But it's a nightmare for those with trypophobia [the fear of clusters of holes] if you look at the countless hexagonal skylight windows one by one."
Soon after opening at 6am, thousands of excited passengers filed into the airport, eager to take photos of the aerodynamic design.
The first take-off was made at 7.55am by home carrier Shenzhen Airlines' flight ZH9853, bound for Hohhot in Inner Mongolia via Wuhan carrying 165 passengers.
At noon, the airport authorities said that the arrival gates, transit lounge, check-in counters, baggage carousel and customs were operating smoothly, with no major delays .
Hundreds of volunteers and ground crew offered assistance. Dozens of golf carts wheeled through the lounge, giving rides to passengers in need.
But it didn't prevent snags. Seven passengers missed their flight to Hangzhou after airline employees told them that the 9.15am departure would be delayed by 85 minutes. While some passengers went shopping and ate breakfast, the flight boarded and took off at 9.50am.
"It was totally a mess," said He Yong of Shenzhen, one of the passengers. "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." But he added: "We accepted their excuses and understood it would not be perfect on the first day."
The air buzzed with frequent announcements of changed boarding gates, sending passengers scrambling to other locations. Some travellers complained that the travelators moved in just one direction, consigning them to a long walks if they needed to head in the opposite direction.
"It's too far," grumbled one passenger en route to a new gate. "It takes 20 minutes to get the gate 47. And now they ask me to move to gate 17."
However, other passengers were impressed. Song Huizhen , taking the first flight out, said he left his home in Dongguan 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.
So far Shenzhen airport will handle just 65 flights a week to Singapore, Bangkok and Taiwan, among other Southeast Asian cities.
"Hong Kong airport is gradually giving up many short-haul routes to Asia. Shenzhen is ready and capable to take them up," said Zhang Huai , the airport's deputy general manager.
He said the airport will soon launch more flights to Indonesia, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand and further afield.
The airport said it handled 629 flights yesterday and it handled about 700 today.
Although the authorities predict more passengers from Hong Kong and Guangdong would choose to fly overseas from the new terminal, many Hongkongers may not be so keen. Almost all international routes from Shenzhen are more expensive than those from Hong Kong.
"I don't believe the mainland-based airlines. Their flights are always delayed with poor services," said Steve Ho, a Hong Kong businessman. "It would be another story if it becomes dirt cheap to fly overseas from Shenzhen."