Opinion / Web Comments

Beijing Airport needs to revive Olympic spirit

By Craig McIntosh (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2012-05-09 15:05

I did not use Beijing Capital International Airport during the Olympics in the summer of 2008, but many people tell me that, at the time, it was world-class: Staff members were polite, security was excellent and transport links were top-notch.

So why, whenever I use it now, is it a chaotic mess that makes me wish I had caught a train instead?

Opened in 1958, the airport has steadily grown into one of the world's busiest hubs, handling more than 70 million passengers every year.

Granted, that's a lot of people for one airport to deal with, and the place itself is nicely laid out in most places.

Yet, it is seriously failing in transport services, particularly at Terminal 2, which can become a nightmare after 11:30pm, when the last subway train for Sanyuanqiao has already departed.

Shuttle buses are irregular, workers are surly and uncommunicative, and the taxi rank at times becomes a random free-for-all, often leading to heated arguments.

The last two times I have landed at the airport on domestic flights, I have been met in the Terminal 2 transport hub by huge lines waiting for taxis and rowdy crowds jostling for position for shuttle buses.

Each time, simply getting home from the airport has taken the same time, if not more, than my flight to Beijing – from Shanghai the first time and then again from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province.

On the first occasion, which was shortly after this year's Spring Festival, a friend and I opted for a shuttle bus, as there was already one parked on the concourse that was going in our direction.

I quickly bought the tickets and was jogging toward the bus when the doors suddenly closed. I was less than 4 meters away. The ticket collector, who could clearly see me coming, signaled for the driver to leave. When I asked why, she simply replied: "Wait."

And wait we did – another bus did not show up for almost two hours, during which time the ground staff simply ignored anyone who complained.

When another shuttle bus finally arrived, about 1am, it came through the wrong lane, meaning the doors were on the wrong side. This immediately caused the people in the snaking line behind me to rush forward en masse.

What followed was shocking: People pushed, shoved and, in some cases, punched their way through the crowd to get a spot on the bus. It was akin to watching starving people fighting over food.

Again, the airport workers made no effort to intervene, not that it would have made any difference. In fact, during the melee, a police car actually drove onto the bus lane and idled for roughly five minutes. Then, it slowly drove away.

The violence was repeated twice more as buses started to arrive, but somehow everyone managed to get a ride home. The irony is, if people had just stayed calm and waited, they would have been on their way so much faster.

The second incident, following a recent trip to Guizhou, was not much better.

This time, due to my previous experience and the sheer amount of luggage I had with me, I joined the lengthy line for a taxi. However, it proved just as frustrating as the bus saga.

People pushed in wherever they could, while taxi drivers unwilling to take the chance of getting a short fare drove straight past the ranks and headed for the passengers who were lining the roads attempting to negotiate their passage home.

To be fair, the small number of personnel working the area – one or two guys directing taxis, a duty manager (of sorts) and another few workers in orange jumpsuits collecting scattered trolleys – tried their best to maintain order. Yet, they proved no match for a couple of hundred angry and tired passengers.

 For visitors arriving in China for the first time, such scenes do not leave a good first impression – and the increasing traffic is only going to make things worse. What is needed is more staff, more security and better systems to maintain order.

It may be a task of Herculean proportions, but I say it's time to turn back the clock and re-establish the Olympic spirit at Beijing Capital International Airport.

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