Terrie's Take 808 (Tourism Edition) -- Narita Terminal 3 -- Possibly the Worst New Airport in Asia

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Jun 14 21:42:23 JST 2015

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, June 14, 2015, Issue No. 808

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+++ Narita Terminal 3 -- Possibly the Worst New Airport in Asia

Last week I had to make a short business trip down to Fukuoka. Thanks to 
Jetstar's ultra-low prices, the airline is a natural for a quick hop 
down from Tokyo and I don't have to think too hard before arranging a 
one-day trip. Clearly I wasn't alone. The attraction of paying just 
JPY8,000-JPY15,000 to go almost anywhere in Japan multiple times a day 
and within a couple of hours travel is a compelling alternative to ANA, 
JAL, and JR, and although it was the middle of a Friday, the flight was 
full and there were plenty of suits among the backpackers and moms with 
kiddies in tow.

I really hope that Jetstar makes it financially and grows their network, 
because thanks to them and other LCCs, regional businesses are starting 
to connect to the big boys in Tokyo at a level they never could before. 
By showing up face-to-face for multiple meetings a month, Tokyo clients 
no longer feel they are dealing with long-distance relationships and 
orders are flowing as a result. But not everyone it seems welcomes the 
low-cost carriers. We say this because it almost seems like there is a 
group controlling the Narita Airport governing body that has gone to 
significant lengths to authorize and build an abomination called 
Terminal 3, as a means of undermining the LCCs.

Let's be clear here, Terminal 3 isn't only my vote for the worst airport 
in Japan, if it wasn't for clean toilets, it would qualify as one of the 
worst new airports in Asia. Indeed, we just voted on Sleeping In 
Airports to record Terminal 3 as the Worst Asian Airport for 2015. You 
can do the same here: 

Why do I think it's so bad? Well, let's run through the most obvious 
issues, though not in any particular order.

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* If you are a tourist with a bag that doesn't have wheels, you might 
have packed extra souvenirs in cartons for example, you're going to be 
surprised when you de-plane at Terminal 3 and find there are no luggage 
carts at the baggage carousels. Yes, there are a couple of stray carts 
in a restricted area, but you'd have to go through a No Re-entry door to 
get them. And even if you did do that (as we did in the end), you'd 
quickly find that the only way up and out of the baggage area is either 
via an escalator which can't take carts, or the elevator, which has a 
huge sign saying NO CARTS.

Hmmm, why would you design a building that doesn't give passengers any 
way of exiting with a baggage cart for goodness sake?! In Terminals 1 & 
2, carts are allowed in the elevators, so why the discrimination with 
Terminal 3? Oh, right, LCC passengers don't use carts, they all have 
backpacks. Silly me.

* On the other hand, if you are departing from rather than arriving at 
Terminal 3, another nasty surprise is in store. There is no car parking 
within 600m of the building. In fact you have to use Terminal 2 car 
parking/trains/etc., which means an uncomfortable walk or an ultra-slow, 
over-filled bus ride. Not only is there no parking, there is also no 
passenger drop-off/pick-up either, unless you're disabled. So if you 
have a bunch of young kids, I hope they're fit and not bothered by a 
half kilometer hike with all the bags. Otherwise, you'll be creating 
your own personal nightmare and be swearing never to travel an LCC in 
Japan again.

* In fact that 500m distance between Terminal 3 and the relative 
civilization of Terminal 2 may not sound much -- you can walk it at a 
leisurely pace in about 15 minutes -- about 5 minutes quicker than the 
stupidly overcrowded bus. BUT, the walkway is partly open to the 
elements (tops of walls and wall openings). This means that in 
mid-summer you'll be roasting in Narita's 40-degree temperatures well 
before you hit the enclosed ticketing area at Terminal 3. Alternatively, 
in winter you'll come to appreciate the thermal underwear you had to 
pack just for this 500m leg of your journey to sunny Okinawa...

* Speaking of being open to the elements, the plane boarding gates are a 
long and twisting walk up and down numerous stairs and corridors from 
the ticketing area. The last half of this maze is a long fenced off 
corridor which is also open to the weather -- more heat/cold. The 
ticketing area is air conditioned, but that is just a fleeting illusion 
before the trudge to board your aircraft.

* The feeling of cheap and temporary is accentuated as you descend the 
last flight of stairs to the gate and realize that there is no 
jetbridge. Instead, all passengers line up under a flimsy plastic tunnel 
on wheels that is netted on the sides but which is quite open to the 
wind and rain. One good gust could topple the structure and everyone 
inside it. Narita is prone to such gusts and it would be better for them 
to do away with any pretense of weather protection and simply have the 
passengers walk out across the bare concrete to the plane.

* Last but perhaps most important, Terminal 3, with the exception of the 
ticketing area, is built to resemble a prison -- not an impression that 
Japan wants to be making with first-time tourists, even those on an LCC. 
There is no effort to hide the cheap wire netting, bars and grates, 
plastic panels, bare steel frames, and open-air gaps that make up the 
concourse. Where is the "omotenashi" that the government is always going 
on about in trying to create a favorable impression to gain repeat 
travelers? Nowhere to be found at this terminal that is for sure.

Now maybe Terminal 3 is so cheap and ugly and dysfunctional because it 
was built with consideration to the fees to be received from the LCCs -- 
meaning, very little. Looking at the Narita Airport site, we note that 
the Public Service Facility charge for Terminal 3 is just half of that 
for Terminal 1 & 2 -- meaning JPY1,020/adult versus JPY2,090/adult for 
the other two facilities. Maybe the LCCs operating out of Terminal 3 
didn't realize what a huge difference that extra JPY1,000 per person 
would make in terms of degradation of the facilities. This would 
certainly account for why there is no air conditioning along most of the 
interminable walk-ways, and also explain why there are Coca Cola 
machines next to each of the rest areas along the trek from Terminal 2. 
Probably they are sponsoring the seats next to each machine as well.

Tourist (and low-end business) travel in Japan is not just about how 
much cash you can extract from each passenger at the airport. There is 
also the money that is spent at each destination. If it takes an LCC to 
bring tourists enmasse to places like Takamatsu, Matsuyama, and Oita -- 
all places that used to cost JPY20,000-JPY30,000 one-way to travel to 
before Jetstar and which are now experiencing a revival in their local 
tourist economies -- then the national government should be throwing 
some of its many recently released billions (of yen) to the one place 
that the journey and the overall impression of Japan starts: at the 

Instead, Terminal 3 offers one of the worst experiences possible for 
arrivals and departures. Only the clean toilets and the nicely fitted 
out ticketing area and shops offer redemption. Especially for fully 
loaded young families struggling in the 40-degree heat of August or 
0-degree cold  of January, it's going to be really uncomfortable. In 
fact, I had such a negative experience that I couldn't help coming away 
wondering if Terminal 3 wasn't designed to be horrible on purpose -- 
some sort of sneaky punishment by the Narita Airport powers-that-be for 
those brazen enough to use an LCC in the first place.

Feel free to let me know what you think about Terminal 3 if you've been 
unfortunate enough to have to use it. And feel free to vote it the worst 
Asian airport of 2015, at:


Maybe winning that award will cause someone in Kasumigaseki to wake up 
and take notice...

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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