From a foreign resident of Beijing, on his latest experience coming in through the sparkling, new, and very very large PEK airport. Confirms this recent report about swift processing and absence of bottlenecks, which bodes well for Olympic-crowd "readiness." Also an interesting reaction to the enormous scale of the airport's new Terminal Three.
I flew in from Singapore on Wednesday and was amazed that; a) our plane was parked at a gate within 3 minutes of touching down, in contrast to several recent experiences of 30+ minutes of taxiing; b) bags were on the carousel within 5 minutes of my arrival there - and I have a diplomatic passport so got through passport control very quickly; c) only even slightly long line was at customs, where every checked and hand carried bag was being x-rayed. Still, a very smooth arrival.
But, what was equally striking was the emptiness of this massively monumental airport. Gave it a real Stalinist feeling - built to overwhelm the viewer but far more than is needed, and without any consideration of costs and returns, and with no commercial buzz. Admittedly my perceptions were affected by having flown in from the new terminal at Changi [Singapore's airport], which was bustling with people and energy, great shops and food outlets everywhere, free internet stations and free movies. The contrast between these two large new super modern airport terminals couldn't have been starker.
UPDATE: Good news and, well, interesting news from my own trip to the airport on the first day of the new security regime, July 20. Good news -- the traffic! Open road all the way, and I counted only a handful of cars that were brazenly displaying odd-numbered licenses plates on this inaugural even-numbered day. (Plus a couple that even more brazenly had taken off their license plates.)
Interesting news: the airport itself.
When they say security is tightening, they're not kidding. Every single bag inspected slowly and individually, several times. Starting at the front door to the terminal, where hand luggage was opened and emptied, and checked bags were wiped with a swab to test for bomb chemicals, plus sniffed by dogs. This naturally created big queues of people just trying to get in from the sidewalk. From there it went on, culminating in a security-screening process vastly more rigorous than the quick-and-easy inspections I'd grown used to at Chinese airports in the past two years.
By the time I actually boarded the plane, I had opened and emptied my computer carry-on bag four separate times. I'll just say: I left my house four hours before my flight time, and was glad I did -- even though the taxi ride was amazingly quick. And if my correspondent is worried that the airport will always seem too empty, he can put his fears to rest.
Update-update: As I get off the plane I had boarded at PEK, I relay report from my seatmate that the same all-bag check before entering the terminal also applied at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport, where this person began today's journey with a connecting flight to Beijing.
Also, the same correspondent who noted the under-populated nature of Terminal 3 was at the airport again today and, like me, noticed that there was no shortage of humanity any more.