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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Auckland Airport Review 

“Auckland International Airport rates as one of the better airports in the world” reads the byline in this story:
The top 10 in the latest airport championship league is, unsurprisingly, dominated by Asian airports, with Hong Kong taking top spot for the fifth year in a row, closely followed by Singapore's Changi Airport. […]

Both airports process passengers with incredible speed and efficiency, have marvellous facilities and terrific transport links, and are also very cheap. Auckland has quite a way to go to reach that standard. […]

The best airport in the Pacific region, according to the survey, is Sydney, which actually came in 10th out of the 150 airports looked at around the world. That, I have to say, is a mild surprise. I've always thought Sydney Airport was okay without being anything really special.

But, then again, the competition is not amazingly tough. Of the 17 airports in the region which were surveyed, Brisbane was second and Auckland third. […]

Personally, I would have thought Auckland's weakest point is its access. It has poor public transport links, difficult road access and expensive parking.

On the other hand, I've always found the airport itself quite user-friendly, with reasonable lounges, acceptable check-in facilities, good immigration and customs processing - except for the odd occasion when there's a logjam of planes arriving - excellent shopping, adequate eating and drinking places and good sign-posting.

But it could always be better. And, considering that we pay the airport company $20 a head via the departure tax for the privilege of using the place, it probably should be. [Editor’s note: too fucking right].

For a while, I considered buying shares in AIA, largely on the basis that they have a licence to print money, as the gateway through which a couple of million kiwis (and an equal number of foreign visitors) must pass. But I think it has some problems too.

1) The most obvious (glaringly obvious, I would have thought) is the lack of integration with the domestic terminal. What sensible airport, instead of connecting their international and domestic airports directly (Vancouver; Christchurch) or by regular underground service (Pittsburgh) keeps them 1km apart, and offers a “free bus service that runs, on average, every 20 minutes”. Yeah, like I have time to wait for that kind of service. Instead, I do the 900 metre dash through carparks and an industrial storage area, sometimes (as when on my way to/from North America) with 60 kg or so of luggage. Nice one.

2) It is the one airport in the world where I’ve consistently experienced check-in line-ups of well over an hour. Air NZ in particular, but Qantas to a lesser extent, seem to think that three half-trained chimps are sufficient to check in a jumbo-jet worth of economy class travellers (with another 3-4 other employees fluffing about in the background, doing sweet fuck all in full view of 300+ frustrated travellers). Moreover, the employees who are responsible for the check-in have no sense of moving people on in an efficient manner when they do make it to the front of the line. Joe and Jill Sixpack get to the front, only to engage in a 4, 6, 10 minute “conversation”. What the fuck’s to discuss … it takes about 45 seconds to check in your two bags each, get your boarding passes, and fuck off. On one memorable occasion, it took me even less than this upon making the front of the queue, as the woman forgot to ask the usual silly questions, or even look at my passport. “Here’s your boarding passes, have a nice flight.” “Thanks, love. Muhahahahaha.”

3) Distant from the downtown, with poor (almost non-existent?) public transport links, and traffic exacerbated by a dubious commercial property development scheme on what was until recently adjacent farmland. Like the Whenuapai billboard above Mangere Bridge said, “If you were flying from Whenuapai, you’d be there by now.” By contrast, Christchurch is a fairly pleasant airport, with what seems to be great bus connections to the city (under big red signs clearly stating “$5 bus to central Christchurch” … couldn’t be clearer for travellers). Parking at both Airports is exorbitantly expensive, especially at Christchurch: $55 a week for the privilege of parking in your gravel lot? Fuck off!

4) Additional line-ups associated with NZ Customs/MAF policy of screening everything in the possession of international arrivals, right down to the bottle of bourbon they just bought up in Duty Free.

5) Customs has never been a problem for me at Auckland, although those of us who travel with folks on other passports know the lengths of time they can endure in the other line up. No “G’day” or “welcome back” for them. For Ms_Red it’s regularly 45 minutes or so, while I’m malingering near the baggage claim and eventually attracting Customs attention myself. Pick up your act!

Now, to make a contrast with Christchurch Airport, where the seemingly under-unemployed NZ customs officials subject sunburnt middle-aged couples back from a week on the Gold Coast to harsh grillings, before conducting a thorough investigation of me upon return from 3 days business in Brisbane. After half an hour in the line up, and an exciting game of 20 questions, in which my ticket etc. was carefully inspected, I proceeded towards the baggage claim, where a customs woman barrels on up to me and proceeds to ask the same questions, again, in the same “how dare you leave the country and come back again 3 days later?” tone. Not being the brightest spade in the tool shed, and despairing in her attempts to make me incriminate myself, she resorted to “do you have any weapons or illegal drugs in your bag?” A cunning ruse indeed. Now, a three day trip to Brisbane doesn’t necessitate a large bag, and mine barely had room for a change of clothes and pair of runners, but nevertheless I resisted the urge to respond “yes, I’ve got two machetes and a pound of hash, what do you think?” I did see a few hapless travellers, including a backpacker (naturally), getting the full “open your luggage and show us everything routine.”


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