More than just an airport


Certain airports around the world are used by masses of travellers as transit rather than departure points. Chana Boucher looks at what they offer while in transit and why they are well suited to being global hubs.

Whether it is because there are no direct flights to a particular destination, or because it works out more cost effective to travel via another destination, business travellers will often find themselves in transit. Certain airports or ‘hubs’ have been well established for this exact purpose and offer multiple connections, short travel times between terminals and, of course, various facilities to help travellers kill time while in transit.

Dubai – Dubai International Airport

Dubai’s geographic location makes it ideally placed to be a crossroads for global air passenger traffic. Through Emirates’ dedicated Terminal 3 hub, South African travellers have access to over 80 destinations in Asia, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, Europe and North America. Dubai is perfectly positioned as a convenient hub for onwards European travel. Emirates now offers 110 destinations as it progresses its strategy to become a global airline joining any two points on earth through Dubai. 

Facilities: Emirates’ dedicated Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport has been designed to facilitate a smooth and seamless process for connecting passengers. For example, there are 15 dedicated check-in counters for First Class passengers, 15 for Business Class and 120 counters for Economy Class. The Emirates Lounges for First and Business Class passengers offer gourmet cuisine, luxurious seating areas and fully equipped workstations for those wishing to stay in touch with family, friends or colleagues. Terminal 3 also benefits from a Marhaba lounge, which can be used by passengers travelling in any class for a minimal cost. The lounge offers traditional Arabic hospitality and all the comforts associated with a Business Class departure lounge, including a fully equipped business centre and a selection of Arabic and continental cuisine as well as a variety of beverages.

Passengers in transit: Emirates Terminal 3 is designed for optimum travelling comfort. The underground terminal is located directly beneath the taxiways/aprons making it closer to the boarding gates. The facility is among the world’s largest, yet its unique design, coupled with state-of-the-art people transportation solutions such as Skytrains and travelators make for quick jaunts between kerbside and aircraft. The T3 complex boasts 670,000m² of space, and ushers travellers to a whole new world of luxury with premium lounges, retail and spa therapy, 14 restaurants, and two hotels. From here, passengers conveniently board an Emirates aircraft through the 26 gates, including five A380 gates, and fly away to their destinations. The lush green Zen gardens, complete with fountains, surrounding the food courts at either end of the airside facility provide respite during a busy travel schedule.

Average length of connections: The vast majority of connections are under four hours – just enough time for passengers to enjoy some of Dubai’s famous shopping.

Popular onward destinations: Some of the most popular destinations include the United Kingdom (Emirates flies eight times daily to London, twice daily to Manchester and Birmingham and once daily to Glasgow and Newcastle), India (Emirates flies to ten destinations within India) and popular Indian Ocean destinations such as the Maldives and Seychelles.

Abu Dhabi – Abu Dhabi International Airport

Abu Dhabi is a convenient hub for transit travellers from South Africa. Etihad Airways flies to various destinations in Europe including London, Paris, Frankfurt, Almaty, Moscow, Athens, Dublin, Manchester and Larnaca. These destinations are convenient for our South African passengers as they offer short connections and a one-stop flight via Abu Dhabi. Passengers flying to long-haul destinations with lengthy transit times are able to acquire a 96-hour transit visa. This can be applied for through a third party contractor with Etihad Airways, giving them a chance to explore the city before they board their next flight. It is only issued to passengers who have valid tickets for onward flights from Abu Dhabi.   

Facilities: Business class passengers have access to the premium class lounge at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Business Class passengers can enjoy a range of services here including all-day fine dining, dedicated meeting facilities, a Wi-Fi area, wellbeing spa, and a family room for children. Abu Dhabi International Airport also has a convenient retail outlet with various duty free stores for all passengers as well as a host of catering facilities and a smoking lounge. The Airport Hotel, located in the Terminal 1 transit offers a lounge with Internet access and a fitness centre. Non-hotel guests are able to use these facilities at an hourly-charge.

Passengers in transit: Abu Dhabi International Airport is well suited for transit passengers due the various facilities on offer. The Airport Hotel offers guests Internet access and a fitness centre; the premium lounges for first and business class passengers offer a range of amenities. Economy class guests also have access to an airport authority-managed lounge. Access to this lounge will be charged for. The new Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi Airport which opened in 2009 has a large food court with a variety of restaurants and takeaway options. The terminal also has a 24-hour medical centre as well as duty free shops, a pharmacy, and even an English pub.

Average length of connections: This depends on the destination but in general all European flights depart within two hours of arrival from South Africa.

Popular onward destinations: Popular destinations for South African business passengers are destinations in Europe and the Middle and Far East. Dubai is also a popular city as Etihad offers complimentary coach services from Abu Dhabi International Airport to various popular tourist sites such as Jumeirah Beach, Dubai Marina and the Dubai Palm Island all of which are 45 minutes from Abu Dhabi.

London – Heathrow Airport

British Airways operates double daily direct flights from Johannesburg and 13 direct weekly services from Cape Town to London, all into Terminal 5. From there, 90% of transferring customers can connect to a route network that serves some 150 destinations in 78 countries. In addition to the existing route network, BA’s transatlantic joint business with Iberia and American Airlines provides customers with more convenient connections and better access to a global network of more than 500 destinations. A concern is that the UK government considering a per-plane tax that would replace the current Air Passenger Duty (APD). APD is not levied on transfer passengers, but a per-plane tax would affect them.

Facilities: For premium passengers, British Airways has six new lounges in Terminal 5. Terminal 5 has the largest retail offering of any of the UK airports.

Passengers in transit: The transfer area is situated in the heart of T5, and 90% of British Airways transferring customers connect through this one terminal, meaning less distance to travel and a faster arrival time at the next flight. The transfer channels are highlighted with purple signs making it easy for customers to connect from one flight to another. An underground track transit system moving at 30mph transfers passengers between the buildings.

Average length of connections: It depends on where they are flying to. The minimum connecting time in Terminal 5 is only 60 minutes.

Popular onward destinations: Top transfer destinations for Premium customers are New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva and Zurich.

Mumbai – Mumbai International Airport

While India is not yet a popular global connection for South African passengers, there is great potential as a hub now that Jet Airways flies between Johannesburg and Mumbai, and given the excellent connections from India to major cities around the globe. Jet Airways operates flights to 24 international destinations and 47 destinations within India, thus offering a better choice in the skies.

Facilities: A meet-and-greet counter is located in Terminal 1B. There are also tourist information counters. There is a business centre and executive lounges in the departures areas of both terminals. Facilities include Internet access, a fax machine and a shoe-polishing machine. Airlines provide business class lounges and there is a designated executive lounge. Telecommunications centres, offering telephones, fax, Internet and photocopying, are located in both terminals.

There are also telephones, hotel reservation counters, bureaux de change, ATMs and postal services throughout both terminals. Wireless Internet access is available free of charge in both terminals. There are restaurants, snack bars, tea, cold drinks and coffee vending booths, bars, ice cream and chocolate shops at the airport. A cyber cafe is also available. Duty-free is available in Terminal 2. There is also a pharmacy at the airport. Left-luggage facilities are available in both terminals. Other facilities include First Aid and medical services, child care rooms and special snoozer chairs.

Passengers in transit: Mumbai International Airport has undergone major upgrading, making it more convenient for waiting passengers. Also, there are several new luxurious hotels adjacent to the airport for short stays before reconnecting.

Popular onward destinations: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kathmandu, Colombo. If the passengers are willing to break their Journey in India for a short period they can connect ex-Mumbai to London, Milan and Brussels with connections to New York and Toronto.

Frankfurt – Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt is centrally located in the heart of Europe and therefore the perfect hub for SA passengers. Lufthansa offers over 2700 weekly frequencies to 168 destinations in 75 countries. Furthermore, all 21 Star Alliance member airlines are represented at Frankfurt Airport, all of them in Terminal 1, the second-largest Star Alliance hub. Over 480 weekly frequencies to just under 40 destinations are served by the other member airlines – this excludes Lufthansa and the Passenger Airline Group made up of Austrian Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines.

Facilities: 73% of passengers on intercontinental flights are transfer passengers. Lufthansa offers many special services at Frankfurt Airport. The airline’s Guide Service is offered in over 50 languages. Staff meet passengers at the aircraft and escort them to their next gate as well as assisting travellers to find their way at the airport. The Welcome Service is provided on selected flights where staff greet arriving passengers in their native language. This service is currently available in 14 languages. Premier class passengers have three First Class Lounges including the First Class Terminal, three Senator Lounges and five Business Class Lounges, as well as the Tower and Welcome Lounges to rest and refresh in.

Passengers in transit: A transfer through Frankfurt Airport only requires 45 minutes connection time and up to 80 feeder flights connect to one intercontinental flight.

Average length of connections: As the Lufthansa flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town arrive before 06h00, all connections are available to transferring passengers. They can ideally connect to the first two main traffic peaks. The ‘early’ or first peak covers mainly domestic German and European flights and the ‘morning’ or second peak covers mainly North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Africa flights.

Popular onward destinations: All Germany destinations as well as London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Milan, Stockholm, Zurich, Madrid, Lisbon, Brussels, Oslo and Vienna.

Paris – Charles de Gaulle

Described as the leading European airport for connecting opportunities, Charles de Gaulle offers state-of-the-art facilities. South Africans transiting are not required to get transit visas. Air France operates out of the airport’s Terminal 2.

Facilities: Some of the facilities at CDG include self-service check-in, a train station with high-speed Thalys Train service, a business centre, entertainment, a first class lounge, three business class lounges and four other lounges. Business workstations equipped with electric sockets to plug a laptop into are located throughout the airport. There is also an Internet Café, multimedia terminals and a brand-new video lounge which opened in December.

Passengers in transit: The flight schedule at Paris-Charles de Gaulle is organized in six connecting banks (or time spans), each of which consists of a wave of flight arrivals and departures, staggered throughout the day to offer passengers a maximum number of connections in as short a time as possible.

Average length of connections: Today Paris-CDG is Europe’s most efficient airport and, combined with Amsterdam-Schiphol, proposes more than 33,000 weekly connecting opportunities in under two hours in both directions.

Amsterdam – Schiphol Airport

Regularly voted as Europe’s best airport, Schiphol operates a one-roof concept for faster connections. A transit visa is not required for South African passport holders.

Facilities: The airport offers self-service check-in, a train station, two transit hotels, shower facilities, a business centre, entertainment, and there are two KLM Crown lounges. Passengers can shop in more than 100 shops, while Schiphol World Avenue offers a wide range of food service outlets. There is also a spa, the Holland Casino and a silence centre.

Passengers in transit: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is the airport where all the flights by KLM and its partners depart from the same terminal. If you are travelling to/from Schengen countries, you should count on having to go through security checks and customs inspections. These can substantially extend the time it takes to complete your transfer procedure. Your hold baggage is automatically labelled through to your final destination.