12 Oct 2010
Warren Singh-Bartlett
I was born in Pakistan. My father is English and my mother is Indian. I was brought up between India, Taiwan, Brazil and almost every industrialised city you can think of in England.

They say that bigger is better. In some cases, that’s no doubt true.

But take Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. As befits a rapidly metastasizing city of 20 million, it’s a monster. Since it was first opened in 1999, the airport has grown to cover some 40 square kilometres. It’s the busiest airport in China and is currently capable of handling 60 million passengers a year. Once the third terminal is completed in five years, that figure will increase to 80 million.

I chose to fly Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong. Cathay is one of Finnair’s partners in Oneworld and it’s an old favourite of mine as it’s one of the first airlines I flew as a child. It might just be my luck but in 30-odd years of travelling with them, I’ve never been disappointed. Nor was I this time. Though the Boeing 777 was 95% full, the flight was delightful. Smiling, courteous service, blankets provided without asking for them, that kind of thing and although our flight was only 1:50 in length, we were not only served food, we were served a hot meal. And no, we weren’t charged extra for it, either.

We landed slightly ahead of schedule and spent the next 20 minutes (!) taxi-ing around the airport to get to a slot. We disembarked relatively quickly but were then faced with a 15 kilometre (OK, OK I exaggerate completely, it was more like a 1 or a 1.5 kilometre walk) to get to immigration.

Luckily, there were travelators. It took four to get to immigration but even so, it was quite a trek. Admittedly, this did give me time to admire Terminal 2, which opened a couple of years ago. It’s still spotless, maintained by an army of cleaners, several of whom were busy at work as we filed by.

Immigration was smooth. Officials are clearly identified and a large electronic billboard nearby encourages visitors to report violations or mistreatment and provides a helpline number to call in such cases. Personally, I had no complaints. After peering through a magnifying glass at my passport, presumably to ensure that the security hologram wasn’t a fake, officer 35****0 stamped me in and waved me on.

The baggage hall was closer than the plane but like the rest of the airport, it was vast and echoing. The carousel took time to get moving and when my bag emerged, it was one of the last to do so. By this time time, I’d already been on the ground for an hour and 10 minutes

The walk from baggage claim to onward transportation into the city – Pudong International is 40 kilometres from the centre – was another cross-country hike but five travelators and several flights of stairs (not fun to navigate with luggage!) later, I was standing on the platform of Shanghai’s Maglev terminal, waiting for the fastest train in the world to open its doors.

The journey to Longyan Train Station took just over seven minutes and we reached a peak speed of 301 km/ph (the train can reach a peak speed of 431km/ph, but the airport/Longyan road trip isn’t long enough). As we were riding on a magnetic cushion, the trip was smooth and fairly quiet although 6 years of service have clearly left the standard class interiors a little worse for wear.

Longyan is convenient only for those staying in Pudong. It’s still around 20 kilometres from the city centre and if you are staying on the Bund-side of the Huangpu River, it might be worth taking the metro from the airport instead.

I’m a sucker for maglev trains though, so I wanted the experience. By now, it was 9:10 and my hotel for the night was still almost 40 kilometres away.

The taxi rank (this time accessed via an escalator, thankfully) ran like clockwork and after showing the driver where I wanted to go on my laptop, I settled back for the ride. Forty-five minutes, several brilliantly-lit bridges and kilometres of equally colourfully-illuminated elevated expressways later, I arrived.

At 10:30, two and half hours after I arrived, I finally made it to bed.

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