Pudong International: Just the basics

26 Jan 2005 by business traveller
The marvellous swooping exteriors of Pudong International and its futuristic train system, the Maglev, inaugurated in March 2004, are the two best things about Shanghai's five-year-old gateway to the skies. After that, the airport is a little disappointing. If you are travelling to the airport from Shanghai, the first thing to note is to avoid confusing Pudong with its predecessor, Hongqiao: easy to do unless you have a translator or a helpful concierge who will give clear instructions to the taxi driver. Pudong is about 30km from Shanghai city centre. Hongqiao is still in operation, although principally for domestic traffic. Note that a second terminal is under construction at Pudong and is due for completion next year. Airlines: There are direct flights to most of the world's major hubs from Pudong. Some 50 foreign and domestic carriers handle more than 400 aircraft movements each day, and they serve 70 international and 60 Chinese destinations. Visas: All holders of an overseas passport need a visa to get into the People's Republic of China. Visas are usually easily obtained, either directly from an embassy or consulate (www.china.org.cn/e-zhuwai/index.htm) or through a travel agent. Visas are generally valid for 90 days from the date of issue, for a stay of 30 days. International arrivals: On arrival at Pudong, expect lengthy queues at immigration due to local bureaucracy ? but at least your baggage should be waiting on the carousel by the time you get through. Getting into town: First choice should be the Maglev train, which takes eight minutes to get to Long Yang Road metro station, about 30km away. The world's first commercial magnetic levitation line is not expensive either: about US$10 round-trip or US$6 one-way. VIP class costs double. There are also five cheaper, dedicated bus routes around the city. Taxis charge according to the distance travelled and the time of day. The average cost to the city centre, which can take 25-40 minutes, is US$18. Drivers are often eager, if not exactly on the ball; it's useful to have your hotel name written in characters. Departing flights: Clear signs indicate domestic and international sections. For the latter it's something of an ordeal, punctuated by scans and stamps called ?chops? ? though, to be fair, the whole process is driven by security. Before passengers get anywhere near check-in they must fill out a (widely available) health declaration form and get it chopped (stamped). From check-in, you move onto immigration. Another luggage x-ray precedes the immigration counter. Departure cards are necessary but they are often few and far between, so keep your eyes peeled. If you use this facility often, perhaps it's best to pick up a few forms for future trips. Shop till you drop? This is certainly not a retail destination; it's not even a place to pick up worthwhile bargains to bring home. Strange, given Shanghai's history of mercantile prowess. Alcohol and tobacco prices are average at best. Eating: Of the dozen or so outlets ? including Chinese, Japanese and Western ? there's very little worth noting. Lounging around: Business class and above can park themselves according to carrier in lounges near gates 10 and 11, and 19 and 20 on the third floor. Others will have to do with the abundant seating in the terminal. Its bright, airy design makes it one of the more acceptable places to wait for boarding. Doing business: Pudong lags behind on this service aspect as well, though there is an airside post office on the third floor near Gate 35. The computer terminals at the business centre on the first floor have a reputation for not working when you need them. Hotels: It's indicative of the general standards here that there is no decent hotel on the doorstep, unlike in Hong Kong or Singapore. The best thing that can be said about the hotel nearest the terminal, the Jinjiang Inn, is that it's very inexpensive (about US$25 a night). An airside hotel, renting rooms for about US$7 an hour,  is located near Gate 15 on the terminal's second floor. Verdict: The basics are all here ? Pudong just needs a bit of a kick in the pants. Given its really remarkable design, by noted French architect Paul Andreu, there is no reason why it can't be right up there with Changi or Schiphol airports given the right infrastructure.
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