As an architect, nothing fascinates me more than the design and architecture of airports. The systems that go into its design and development that makes it into one cohesive, functioning piece of machine that enables travel by airplanes possible, more comfortable and nowadays, more secure. Back in college, I attempted to have a thesis project about an international airport although the complexity of the study got into me, so I opted to do a designer hotel instead…

The development of Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok Island fascinated me. At one point, it was the world’s largest construction site, designed by my favorite architect Lord Norman Foster. Hong Kong badly needed a replacement to the already congested Kai Tak International — I still had fond memories of watching the buildings go by the windows of our Airbus A-300 on final approach to Runway 13–and it was an awesome adventure in itself!

Forward to 2016, and it has been 18 years since this airport opened this first-timer was finally excited to get to experience Hong Kong International Airport. One advantage of flying Cathay Pacific is that it gets priority handling in gate assignments, my flight from Manila docked at Terminal 1 (the original building that opened in 1998), rather than at the North Satellite Concourse (2009) which handles narrow-body aircraft, and the Midfield Concourse (2015), which handles all other airlines. I have not been on the two other Concourses nor Terminal 2 (2007) which handles check-in for select low-cost and legacy carriers, so I’ll just be discussing my Terminal 1 experience on this entry.

Arrival

My Cathay Pacific flight arrived on a particularly rainy morning, and I was anxious to get to the city as fast as possible since my friends were already waiting for me. There was a quite a hold before we actually got a gate assignment. We finally docked around 7:45 am. I headed straight for immigration and baggage reclaim, got my Octopus Card from a 7-11 in Arrivals Hall, got up the Departures Level to snap some photos, then went back down towards the Ground Transportation Center and boarded the bus to the city.

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Ceiling Detail Hong Kong International Airport
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MTR Station Ground Transportation Center HKIA
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Ground Transportation Center leading to surface transportation
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MTR Station

I was actually through from gate to Arrivals Hall in under 30 minutes which was actually fast, considering it was my first time. It was on my arrival at my bus stop in Mongkok that things got pretty bad.

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Level 7 Departures Hall Terminal 1

Departure

I arrived a good four hours before my flight, since I took the bus with my friends who were departing Hong Kong an hour earlier, I figured I had to give myself ample time for  thorough inspection since I didn’t have my passport with me. I also wanted to check out the Plaza Premium Lounge which my Citibank Premiere Miles credit card offered complimentary access to.

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Level 7 Terminal 1 Departures Check-In
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CX Check-in counters

Check-in on Level 7 was already open at this point, and the lady behind the counter had to double check my papers. I took about 15 minutes before I was cleared for check-in. I checked out one of the toy stores on the Departures hall where I got a model B777-300ER with the new Cathay Pacific livery—sweet!

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Cathay B777-300ER new livery
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Check-in hall stores Level 7

I headed for Security Check —where for some reason, I was so anxious about getting through immigration–I didn’t realize I had left my carry-on, on the x-ray machine and was already on queue for one of the immigration counters, when a security guy approached the lines and said: “Hello! anyone? holding a bag and pointing to it” It was mine–(sheesh!)

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Security and Immigration Hall

Anyway, immigration was actually fairly quick and I headed down to Level 6 which had the food court overlooking the Concourse on Level 5.

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Overlooking Concourse Terminal 1
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Overlooking Concourse Terminal 1
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Food Hall on Level 6

It was there I got to rejoin my friends who were having dinner. They were glad that I actually got thru without any fuss (except for the security checkpoint blunder ;)) and that I was actually going home despite losing my passport a few days ago. We shopped last minute for some goodies to take home before bidding each other goodbye as they headed for their gate while I headed down to level 5 since my Cathay Pacific flight was leaving on Gate No. 4. I figured I would just check the Plaza Premium Lounge near Gate 1 since I only had a couple of hours to spare.

This Plaza Premium Lounge near Gate 1 was actually crowded when I got there. It was windowless as well as it was inside the terminal.

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Plaza Premium Lounge near Gate 1 seating area

My card was swiped on entry and was given a password for wi-fi. Since the lounge was pretty packed, I wasn’t able to snap a lot of photos, most (actually almost all) the seats were filled, though I was able to snap a table near the buffet area.

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Part of buffet and seating area Plaza Premium Lounge

The buffet area consisted of a noodle bar, a counter for several hot dishes, a beverage counter, a fridge for sodas, section for fruits and desserts and finger food. I got a bowl of noodles, and some finger food, a bottle of water and a can of iced tea, and a glass of juice.

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Lounge dinner

I just used the toilet then I figured to explore the airport further before boarding call. Its on Level 5 that I actually got a sense of scale of just how huge this airport was. I was actually tempted to go all the way to either Gate 50 or 70, but only got to reach Gate 31 I think, before turning back for Gate 4. I love how actually spacious the seating areas are and the lightness of the curved roof actually fills the concourse with indirect lighting. Its one of the busiest concourses, people are constantly moving catching their planes on the different gates, its actually one of the world’s busiest airport!

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Departures Concourse Level 5 Terminal 1
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Departures Concourse Level 5 Terminal 1
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Departures Concourse Level 5 Terminal 1
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Departures Concourse Level 5 Terminal 1

I got to my Gate, Gate No. 4, but no aircraft in sight yet. I was taking an Airbus a330-300 this time, and it was around 40 minutes before departure that the aircraft arrived at the gate.

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Waiting near Gate 4 Terminal 1

Boarding was delayed by a further 20 minutes, before Business Class, Marco Polo Silver and Gold , select one world and Premium Economy Passengers started boarding, before finally letting Economy Class board in two lines.

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Almost boarding…

Overall, I actually liked Hong Kong International Airport. Despite its sheer size and the volume of passengers it handles, it offers a lot of facilities for both inbound, outbound and transit passengers. The staff in the airport is actually friendly and efficient, and its hard to get lost, as signage and the terminal layout itself is not only visually stunning but also oriented for ease of use. Just for the heck of it? Yes, it definitely ranks as one of my favorite airports in the world.

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