Asia’s busiest airport to embrace international future
In terms of size Tokyo Haneda ranks alongside giant international hubs such as London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulles and Los Angeles International. Japan’s largest airport handled 66.73 million passengers last year, making it the busiest airport in Asia and fourth busiest in the list of the world’s largest airports behind Atlanta-Hartsfield, Chicago O Hare and London Heathrow.What marks Haneda out from the rest of the pack, however, is that the vast majority of passengers passing through are travelling on domestic flights. Tokyo’s increasingly overcrowded Narita airport has traditionally handled the capital’s international flights, leaving Haneda, located 30 minutes south of the city, to cover domestic services.It is a shame that flights to the two airports have been set up this way. Haneda is situated much closer to Tokyo than distant Narita. In fact, it is a short, half-hour train ride away. Customers also give the airport a big thumbs up for its light, airy check-in halls, speedy security checks and boarding procedures, as well for its quick and efficient baggage system.
In the near future Haneda will handle more international flights as Japanese aviation authorities try to take pressure off overworked Narita. A five-story, 159,000 square foot terminal is currently being built at Haneda and is scheduled to open later this year. It will almost certainly handle long-haul flights to Europe, and will increase the airport’s overall flight capacity by 40%.
A more important international role may beckon for Haneda, but for the moment its main drawback is that the airport primarily caters to local travellers. Japanese signs and information display screens are the norm, and most airport staff have limited English. Finding your way around is a challenge although you can glean some decent information before you travel from Haneda’s English website, http://www.tokyo-airport-bldg.co.jp/en/.
Haneda has a large range of shops and restaurants, although it is fair to say the majority of outlets are understandably targeted at local travellers. It is also worth mentioning that the main shopping centres in Terminals 1 and 2 are both located before security. The post-security line up of stores and restaurants is much more limited, so bear this in mind when you plan your time at the airport.
The airport boasts three terminals. Terminal 1 is dedicated to domestic carrier Japan Airlines and has been named ‘Big Bird since it first opened in 1993 due to its shape from the air, which uncannily resembles a giant bird in flight with wings outstretched. Diehard shoppers will delight in the terminal’s enormous five-story shopping centre, which features famous Japanese department stores such as Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi and Wako.If you get exhausted after walking around all these shops, head up to the rooftop observation deck on the fifth floor, which offers some great views of the airport and some relative peace and quiet for anyone needing to chill out from the hustle and bustle below.Terminal 2 is a much newer facility, having opened in 2004, and is dominated by another domestic carrier, All Nippon Airways. It also features yet another five-floor shopping mall, but this time with a swanky rooftop restaurant perched on top. Many of the stores feature luxury Western fashion brands appealing to the well-heeled Japanese shopper such as Cartier, Omega, Ferragamo and Dunhill.
However, we prefer the eccentric Tokyo’s Tokyo gift shop, which has only recently opened on the third floor. The store features a wonderfully eclectic product mix, ranging from make-it-yourself jewellery kits, flip flops and robot toys to useful travel books on Japan, vintage model aircraft and even funky chopsticks.Another interesting place to visit is Sembikiya on the ground floor, which has a famous sister shop in downtown Tokyo. It sells an amazing array of beautifully packaged imported fruit. Expect prices to be steep, but the presentation and range on offer are superb.A free shuttle bus links the two main terminals to Haneda’s much smaller International terminal, which currently handles a few charter flights to a sprinkling of Asian destinations. There is a duty-free shop in the departures lounge, but the general range of shops and cafes in this part of the airport is somewhat limited.
Of course, this is set to change when the new international terminal opens its doors later in the year when a new chapter in the history of Haneda will unfold.
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