Incheon’s Disappointing Brand New Terminal 2

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Yesterday I flew Korean Air from Seoul Incheon to Hong Kong, and I detailed my initial thoughts in a “preview” post as usual (the review will come next week). To get to my flight I had to use Seoul Incheon’s brand new Terminal 2, which Korean Air started using in January this year. I’ve heard very good things about the terminal, and was excited to check it out.

a large glass building with a glass roofKorean Air Terminal 2 Seoul Incheon

Incheon’s Terminal 2 is a really nice terminal. The terminal is airy, the waiting lines are way shorter than in Terminal 1, and everything is pretty new, which I like. However, I was left disappointed and don’t think the terminal has anything on some of the best in the world, such as Singapore Changi or even Hong Kong Airport.

Why, might you ask? What’s not to love?

Not enough signage

To the airport’s credit, all the signage that’s present is quite clear. There’s just nowhere near enough of it. For example, at the check-in area I tried to locate Korean Air’s check-in desk for first and business class passengers, and couldn’t find it. We started walking towards the Korean Air economy desks, and had walked around 100 meters before coming across a sign saying that the premium check-in desks were on the other side of the terminal.

people walking in a building with a green tapeKorean Air Premium Check-In Incheon Airport

Additionally, while there was signage for important areas such as transit desks airside, I found there to be far too little, to the point where you’d have to walk with purpose to the nearest sign in order to find where you needed to be. This works for airports such as Hong Kong Airport where all the important places are either past immigration or by gate 40 (and there’s also proper signage at Hong Kong Airport, for the record), but it’s less effective at this terminal where everything is scattered (tax refunds are by gate 249 on the west side, the transfer desk is at a common area by the west side, the transit hotel and a few lounges are on the east side, etc.).

a group of people in a mallSee signage for the nearest Priority Pass lounge throughout this entire stretch? Nearest transit desk? Me neither.

Inefficiently managed lines

Right now, Terminal 2 is used basically solely by Korean Air and its closest partners Air France, Delta and KLM. This was more than fine by me as this made the lines short. However, I’ve never seen operations managed as inefficiently. Baggages took forever to get onto the conveyor belt during arrival, and when boarding passes were checked prior to getting airside in the departures hall, we were meant to go through one by one (normally airports check boarding passes for groups traveling together in one go). Not only that, but each check took around 20-30 seconds, so it took two minutes just to get into the customs area despite there only being five people ahead of me in the line (parents and sister included).

By the immigration desks, the lines separated at individual desks after a “snake queue”, but the queue barriers only opened up to the leftmost immigration desks, so it took a while for people to notice and head towards the rightmost immigration desks, slowing down the line. Since there were so little people at the time getting airside “only” took 20 minutes, though throw in a few more SkyTeam airlines and I could easily see an hourlong minute queue forming just to get airside.

Inefficient and apathetic airport staff

There’s an electronic gate controlled by airport staff when they check your boarding passes to get into the customs area. After my mother’s boarding pass was checked, the airport staff didn’t open the gate until my mother stared at her (around 10 seconds). Right after she scanned my sister’s (within a second) she opened the gate and told her to “hurry up”. I wanted to snap at her not to talk to my sister like that, but I kept my mouth shut. Pathetic.

The customs machine is actually pretty well-designed, as bins are dispensed at regular intervals from the machine itself, saving airport staff the trouble of having to pick up the bins for passengers. Despite that, airport staff still were too lazy to push the bins towards the X-ray scanner, and commanded customers to “hurry up” and do so. (Side note that I’m not exactly complaining about: they check your boarding pass and passport again at the customs machine, and make you hold it through the full body scanner.)

The customs area features a full body scanner, so you’re required to stand inside with your hands up for a couple of seconds (if you’ve been to Heathrow, you’ll have seen something similar – except here you’re holding your passport and boarding pass while getting scanned). I was actually selected for a pat-down, and the security officer literally touched my pocket. He didn’t pat me down with any devices, nothing. I’m not complaining because I wanted a full pat-down, but something tells me that just touching a suspect’s pocket not how a pat-down should be done. My bag also got pulled over for inspection, and the customs officer opened my bag, reached down into my pencil case, opened it, closed it, and put it back in my bag. When I asked her what they found, she said “yes”.

The immigration line was long, though moved quickly. The apathetic immigration officer literally just looked at my passport, scanned it, and I was good to go – this was the most painless and least confusing of the few steps needed to get airside (I don’t envy immigration officers for their job).

a group of people in a large airportFinally airside at Incheon T2!

“Rude and lazy” airport staff isn’t anything new, though I wouldn’t expect this at the world-class airport that Incheon believes itself to be.

Did Korean Air even try with their new lounges?

Not that this is Incheon Airport’s fault, but Korean Air also completely trashed an opportunity to impress with their two new business class lounges. I had the opportunity to visit both, and both were packed to the gills, and despite being substantially nicer than what they offered at Terminal 1 in the past, I still found the lounge to be half-assed, between the sad food selection, the redundant bar and the airline’s apparent inability to install privacy partitions. Even the first class lounge is apparently “not up to first class standards” (I wasn’t flying first class so couldn’t visit, obviously). While Korean Air had a golden opportunity to improve a weak part of their experience (since they more or less run the terminal now), these new lounges just show that clearly they don’t get how an airline lounge experience is supposed to be like.

people sitting at tables in a large roomKorean Air Business Class Lounge Seoul Incheon Terminal 2 (West)

Bottom Line

Incheon Airport’s new terminal isn’t bad by any means. It’s really nice architecturally, and you won’t have that much trouble finding your way round (at least as of now, with only four airlines operating from the terminal). However, it’s more akin to an impressive airport in a secondary city, such as Osaka Kansai, and between the apathetic staff, the insufficient signage, the awkward terminal layout, and the improperly managed queues, I don’t see this airport as a practically thriving hub airport terminal.

Singapore Changi’s Terminal 3 continues to be an example of what an airport should be like (I’m not a fan of the at-gate security, but basically everything else runs smooth as silk). There’s more than adequate signage, duty-free shops are collected in a single area as opposed to scattered around the terminal, and there are also attractions such as their butterfly garden, which Incheon Terminal 2 didn’t seem to bother with. Changi Airport opened Terminal 4 last year, and I can’t wait to see what that’s like, as I’ve heard the security technology is revolutionary (they probably won’t even have to touch my pocket to “pat me down” there).

As for Korean Air’s ground service manager, maybe visit one of the world’s five best business class hub lounges, and you might begin to understand what a hub airline lounge’s supposed to offer. 😉

How was your experience at Incheon’s new Terminal 2?

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