Incheon Airport…The Best Airport in the World?
I’m writing this from inside the airport as I am waiting to go on a plane to Shanghai, China for my business trip to the 2010 Expo. I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed how beautiful this airport is. I guess I just took it for granted. I was surprised to learn that Incheon Airport has been voted the world’s best airport every year since 2005. That’s really quite amazing, but I wonder what’s so great about it that it deserves to be the best airport in the world, whereas other airports aren’t. I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time in many different airports, and they are all pretty much the same.
Well, I guess that’s not totally true. Incheon has a futuristic design. Just look at the exterior to the departure/arrival section. It looks like a spaceship and doesn’t have a single straight line in it. I don’t think I’ve ever even noticed that until today. I don’t think anyone who flies about once per year really notices it either. Sure, it’s aesthetically pleasing. But somehow I doubt that’s enough to make it the best airport in the world. So let’s look at other areas of it to try to find out why.
What else is there about Incheon airport that’s so great? Well probably, for me, it would have to be relative ease at which passengers can get to and from the airport. It is connected by rail and you can also take a shuttle bus there from practically anywhere in Seoul. It takes less than an hour to get there, depending on where you are. It’s surprising to me that Seoul got this completely right, whereas other major cities fail miserably in this department.
That’s not special, lots of airports are well connected.
Well, that might be true, but in my experience, the airports serving cities I live in aren’t at all well connected. I’m talking specifically about Dulles International Airport near Washington, DC, and Narita Airport in Narita, not near enough to Tokyo, Japan.
What’s wrong with those?
Dulles as an airport is okay, but getting there is a huge problem. If you don’t have someone to drop you off, then it’s going to take about $70 to get a taxi to come to your house and take you there, to say nothing of the traffic on the Washington DC beltway. I’ve always been fortunate enough to have someone take me there, so it hasn’t been an issue, and I also have taken and picked up people from there. It’s kind of a thing you do for others even if you don’t want to, because you want them to do it for you when you need it.
Narita airport serves Tokyo, but it’s so far away, that going to the airport sometimes takes longer than the international flight you’re taking from there. It’s so far away that it’s like putting an airport in London to serve Paris. Okay, maybe not that far, but far enough that the trip there takes serious planning. One time I actually lost about $1000 because I took a shuttle bus to the airport. Due to severe traffic, the bus took 4 hours, and I missed my flight. There were no other flights open so I had to wait a week and pay a fine to get a standby ticket to go home during my summer vacation. Needless to say, I don’t like Narita.
That’s not fair, just for that one reason you don’t like Narita?
Well there’s more. One time I flew there and because of a booking error I had to stay there for 23 hours straight. I also had no money so there wasn’t anything I could do. 23 hours is a long time. As such, I can pretty much tell you everything there is no know about Narita Airport’s Terminal 1. And, there’s not much to say other than that it is expensive, aimed at tourists, and security likes to bother you just because they can. That time that I was there for 23 hours, I was stopped by the blue clad security people and asked to show my ID 3 times! I guess they didn’t like that I was sitting down in the same spot trying to sleep in front of the TV that had the same commercials on loop. (I still remember the jingle for this one product called the hot belt. In fact I think I’ll try to youtube it for you just so you can see how annoying it really is.) Well, it appears it’s so old that I can’t find it. Anyway just know that it was annoying.
Well, I’d be lying if I told you I’ve never had problems there. In fact today I had one. You see, I just renewed my passport a few months ago, and the visa I have for legal stay in Korea is in my old passport. I was told by Korean immigration that my foreign ID card would be enough to prove that I had a valid visa. Well, when I exited the country today (on paper) the guy took my blank passport and scratched his head. You’re born in Korea? He asked.
1. People say I look young, but I look like I am well into adulthood. That someone would assume that this is my first passport is staggering.
2. If I had been born in Korea and lived here all my life, why would you even think to ask me if I had been born here in ENGLISH?!??!?!
3. If I have my ID card, wouldn’t I have needed a valid visa to get said ID card?
Anyway after a few calls here and there, he told me that I had renewed my passport, and this was a new one. That’s why I don’t have a visa in there.
WELL DUH!!! I told YOU that Mr. Immigration Officer.
In Shanghai I was whisked through immigration so fast that it didn’t even seem like it was immigration. I am used to long interrogating questions that Japan, Korea, and the U.S. give when you try to enter. Here, the officer looked at my passport very quickly and waved me through. I was done in like 3 seconds, literally!
Is there anything else you can tell me about Incheon Airport?
Well, yes, actually. If there was ever a place that was trying to promote the traditional culture of the country it serves, it is Incheon airport. Sure every airport will have a souvenir shops aimed at tourists. Incheon airport however is so intent on getting people to experience Korea’s traditional culture, that there are nice hanbok clad ladies waiting in designated areas to teach you how to make kites, or do calligraphy, or help you make kimchi, or wear hanbok and take your picture. It’s almost as if there is no need to go to Insadong at all if you’ve been to the airport. (I’m not a fan of touristy places to begin with, so for someone like me, I wouldn’t recommend Insadong at all.)
I’m sorry to pour in all the haterade, because despite the fact that I personally don’t enjoy Korea being represented as an exotic far away fantasy land of beautiful women dressed in silken robes dancing with fans, it does give the airport a certain flavor that other airports simply can’t compare with. Would I want to spend 23 hours in Incehon Airport? Well, no, but I wouldn’t have to either, because It’s connected well enough (unlike Narita), that a trip to Seoul wouldn’t be a major trip (unlike a trip to Tokyo from Narita). That said, Narita is crowded and noisy. Incheon is spacious, bright, and quiet enough that you can at least sleep.
Is it the best airport in the world? Perhaps I’ve been taking it for granted. It’s certainly better than most other airports I’ve been to.