Hong Kong Airport’s Sombre Terminal Upgrades

I’m currently flying the return portion of my Turkish Airlines itinerary from London to Hong Kong via Istanbul, and as part of this I caught my first flight out of Hong Kong Airport in two years. Hong Kong Airport is my home airport (I’m privileged to be able to choose between Hong Kong Airport and London Heathrow Airport, and I’m not choosing Heathrow), and even pre-COVID I’d been noticing that the airport was getting a lot of upgrades. I was surprised to see in 2022 that Hong Kong Airport had followed through with all of these upgrades, despite not having much of an incentive to.

a photograph of Hong Kong Airport in 2022
Hong Kong Airport, 2022

Hong Kong opened up today (well, kind of), and is allowing quarantine-free travel for the first time since early 2020. Prior to today the quarantine period was “only” three days, but just a few months ago it was as much as 21. Despite no longer needing to quarantine at a designated hotel, 10+ COVID-19 tests (between rapid antigen and PCR) are still required to properly enter the city. So typically, whenever writing about Hong Kong Airport, the focus was on all the red tape that prevented the airport from being the international gateway that it used to be.


Not many flights out of Hong Kong Airport yesterday evening

The somewhat depressing thing was that the red tape covered up what otherwise is an industry-leading airport experience.

All gate areas had easy access to power ports and USB charging, and there was even airport-lounge style seating facing the tarmac, with desk lamps and a universal power port at each seat.


Airport lounge style seating, Hong Kong Airport

Hong Kong Airport’s food hall is famous for their vast selection, and that was no exception this time around, with the exception of some stores being closed (not particularly because of COVID-19, but also because it was 9 PM).

Additionally, there are so many extra cute facilities, such as children’s play areas, which are dotted throughout gates…


Children’s play area, Hong Kong Airport

…as well as free gaming areas, along with some very fancy seating.


Free gaming area, Hong Kong Airport

In addition, all of the gates had undergone refurbishment, with wide LED screens displaying all boarding details in an effective and eye-catching way.


Boarding screen, Hong Kong Airport

As before, WiFi was fast and free, and very easy to connect to. Adding to that, check-in and immigration were both very smooth, and it doesn’t take any more than 15 minutes to get to the furthest gate (the main departures concourse has 68 gates), given how efficient the train bringing passengers to the “upper” gates is.

The airport terminal certainly had more facilities than some Plaza Premium lounges I’d been to in other countries (fortunately the Plaza Premium lounge at Hong Kong airport was also fairly impressive), and if you ignore the elements of the experience that Hong Kong’s COVID-19 law adds, it’s really such a thoughtfully designed airport, especially for passengers without lounge access. Compare that to some other new terminals that have been built in the meantime (Incheon and Istanbul come to mind), where WiFi is slow, power ports are lacking, there are no facilities next to gates, no trains between gates, etc., despite more impressive architecture.

Speaking of COVID-19, the departures experience still featured some reminders of the rigorous arrival experience, including a “sterile” area past gates 24 and 25 for all non-mainland China bound flights (once you passed this area, you had to undergo sterilisation in order to head back to the “lower” gates).


Sterile gate area, Hong Kong Airport

In addition, most of the lounges at Hong Kong Airport are still closed, with exception of the Plaza Premium lounges (one of which I’ll be reviewing, since it’s been updated in the meantime), Cathay Pacific’s The Pier (business class) for Oneworld business class departures, and The Wing for Oneworld first class departures.


Poor United Club

Of course, masks are still mandatory at Hong Kong Airport, and you need to scan a LeaveHomeSafe QR code before entering any lounges or restaurants, by law (though they can’t really issue you a mandatory testing order if you’re a close contact, given that everyone there is leaving Hong Kong).

Conclusion

Hong Kong Airport is recently often known for being a husk of the bustling travel hub it used to be, though there’s no denying that it offers an industry leading experience, sans the still-closed lounges. Even with mandatory mask wearing, QR code scanning, closed lounges, etc. I’d still find Hong Kong Airport 10 times more pleasant to transit than Incheon Airport’s Terminal 2 in Seoul, Korea (Korean Air’s hub).

No testing is currently required to transit through Hong Kong Airport (as long as you’re not leaving the airport).

Have you travelled through Hong Kong Airport post-COVID?

Any thoughts?

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