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The fastest check-in, the longest goodbye at Changi’s New Terminal 4

Like a lot of people, I dread airports. I hate queuing up and I hate the thought of losing my luggage or losing my sanity because my luggage mistakingly ends up in Timbuktu. I hate stuffy airports and long, lonely, boring layovers with nothing much to do to while away the eternal hours. But all that simply vanished into thin air the moment I stepped into the fully-automated, state-of-the-art (which may well be state-of-the-heart, too, what with its assorted well-thought-out, thoughtful features), 225,000-sqm. (about the size of 27 football fields) new Terminal 4 of Singapore’s Changi Airport, the world’s sixth busiest international airport.

Fast And Curious Facts

During an open house especially for Asian media (the very first media to set foot on Terminal 4), our two lovely “tour guides” — Neo Su Yin, general manager, T4 Programme Management Office, and Julia Jemangin, senior manager, corporate & marketing communications — happily walk us through Terminal 4 and what a walk to remember it is! Here, too, to welcome media guests from Manila and Indonesia are Changi Airport Group’s super efficient senior managers Melvin Leong and Chua Ching Hock. A T4 open house will run from Aug. 7 to 20, with all 200,000 tickets taken up (for more info, visit T4.changiairport.com).

A sneak preview of T4 reveals these super wow, super FAST (Fast and Seamless Travel) and curious facts and figures:

• T4 will be the first terminal at Changi Airport to integrate facial recognition technology with end-to-end self-service options — from check-in, bag drop, and immigration to boarding (the other terminals will eventually go automated, too). That means passengers can now check in at their own convenience without having to wait for the counters to open. For those who need assistance (such as the elderly who may not be techie enough), there will be roving service agents while counter service will also be available for those who need special assistance like families with young children and big travel groups.

• The two-storey, 25-meter-high building cost S$985 million to construct, beginning in early 2014.

• T4 has a handling capacity of 16 million passengers per year.

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• It’s got a 68-meter ramp control tower.

• Nine airlines are operating at T4: Air Asia Group (four airlines), Cathay Pacific, our very own Cebu Pacific, Korean Air, Spring Airlines, and Vietnam Airlines. Collectively, these airlines operate close to 800 flights a week to over 20 regional destinations and serve some eight million passengers per year.

• There are 42 conventional check-in counters, 65 automated check-in kiosks, 50 automated bag drop machines, equipped with facial recogniton system.

• T4 will use 3D screening technology so no need to take out your gadgets from your hand-carry, just put your bag in the tray. Speaking of trays, we were amazed to see T4’s automated tray return system, which does away with the manual handling of trays by passengers and screening officers.

• There are 10 pre-board screening lanes.

• For immigration, there are 26 manual and 18 automated departure gates, and 44 manual and 16 automated arrival gates.

• There’s a total of 46 automated boarding gates (two per narrow body gate and three per wide body gate), equipped with facial recognition system.

• There are 30 pairs of toilets (that look so chic you’d think you’re in a five-star hotel) located 100 meters apart. You will smile when you see the Smiley button that tells you how clean the toilet is (you wouldn’t want to see the red light).

• Coming soon are 80 retail and food & beverage outlets over 16,000 sqm of space. Over a quarter of the retail and dining options are new to Changi, like Bakery Cuisine, Andes by Astons (halal), London Fat Duck, Food Emporium (halal options), Old Street Bak Kut Teh, Ma Mum, Sushi Goshin for the restaurants/cafes; Changi Meet & Greet, Starhub, Adidas Homecourt, Airport Pharmacy, Moleskine, Pazzion, WH Smith, ZAKKASG, Tiger’s Den, and Treasures (Yi Dian Xin) by Imperial Treasure for the concept shops. Do check out these new attractions.

• Another first for Changi Airport is the integrated duty-free zone in the transit area (for liquor & tobacco, cosmetics & perfumes). Now, passengers can shop and pay for all their purchases at just one counter.

Just before boarding, you can even do your last-minute shopping!

Fresh And Refreshing

Fact is, Terminal 4 is a destination in itself. We see touches of greenery that announce Terminal 4 as soon as we get off our bus. We see a lot more greenery and flowers as we enter T4. (Yes, they’re real plants, so Neo Su Yin assures us.) Everything looks so fresh, refreshing, alive, vibrant and, yes, fun, you forget about all the hassles of traveling (I guess that’s what the design was intended to be). It’s like I just stepped into my favorite mall.

The petal-shaped skylights let natural light into the building. And all that glass gives travelers a view of Runway 2 as they make their way to the terminal’s 21 boarding gates. At the terminal’s departure kerbside, say hello to a greenwall facade with more than 16,000 plants.

“From the glass walls, you can see your friends or relatives and wave goodbye to them before you board your aircraft,” says Neo, as we walk down the beautifully carpeted, long departure corridors. “You can say bye, bye, bye, bye, bye. It’s the longest goodbye.”

Movable Feast For The Eyes

But we’re not yet saying goodbye to Changi Airport because we still have things to see and shows to catch — yes, at Terminal 4.

Even jaded travelers will enjoy the visually immersive and theatrical experience that T4 offers via its especially curated art and entertainment features. A great attraction is the grand-scale kinetic sculpture, “Petalclouds,” spanning all of 200 meters of the Central Galleria separating the public and transit areas. This awesome grandiose work of art moves gracefully (like clouds moving across the horizon) to classical music especially composed by award-winning composer Olafur Arnalds. You can just sit there and soak it all in.

More feasts for the eyes are offered by Chong Fah Cheong’s “Ah Chek!” installation (of a mother and her son hailing a trishaw ride after a visit to the market), Swiss artist Kurt Metzler’s “Travelling Family” at the departure transit area, and French artist Cedric Le Borgne’s “Les Oiseaux (The Birds),” birds in flight sculptures that welcome passengers in the arrival hall and send them off in the departure hall.

Okay, so what’s showing at T4?

We get immersed (and engrossed) as we sit and watch the 70m x 5m-long Immersive Wall across the central departure secuirty screening area. The LED display features 17 immersive content capsules, produced by Montreal-based Moment Factory and showcasing Singapore’s skyline, ASEAN landmarks, and a whimsical animated clip of suitcases being screened before a flight.

We proceed to the departure transit for yet another big surprise — the Heritage Zone showcasing Singapore’s rich Peranakan (15th-century Chinese immigrants of West Java) heritage. The facade replicates the evolution of the shophouses that existed from 1880 to 1950 (the digital wall transforms into a theater). Here, we get to immerse ourselves in a bit of Singapore culture as we watch the Peranakan Love Story, a six-minute video showing two young lovers in 1930s Singapore. How romantic, lah!

“With T4, we have sought to create an enjoyable and memorable travel experience for our passengers, from the facilities and services, to the environment and the visual elements within…,” says Poh Li San, Changi Airport Group’s vice president, T4 Programme Management Office.

The only problem is, you could be enjoying yourself so much at T4 you’ll lose track of the time and forget you have a flight to catch.

* * *

Cebu Pacific Air flies from Manila to Singapore 21 times weekly, Clark to Singapore seven times weekly, Cebu to Singapore seven times weekly, Iloilo to Singapore twice weekly, and Davao to Singapore twice weekly. It will begin operating from Changi Airport Terminal 4 in Singapore as soon as it opens later this year, the first Philippine carrier to be moved to this new facility. For bookings and inquiries, visit www.cebupacificair.com or call the reservation hotlines 702-0888 or 230-8888. The latest seat sales can be found on CEB’s official Twitter @CebuPacificAir.

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