Take Offs & Land­ings

hid­den-in-plain-sight gem on the Pearl

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Jerome Greer Chan­dler

Guangzhou Baiyun is a hid­den-in-plain-sight gem on the Pearl. JFK gets culi­nary boost. DFW sim­pli­fies park­ing pay­ments. Houston Hobby breaks ground on new ter­mi­nal. Plus new con­nec­tion news.

It’s tough to tab the planet’s 19th busiest aero­drome a‘stealth’air­port. But there it is. Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional (ACI) puts Guangzhou Baiyun In­ter­na­tional ahead of the likes of Shang­hai Pu Dong, San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional and Bush Houston In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal when it comes to pas­sen­ger traf­fic. In 2011, the last year for which full fig­ures are avail­able, ACI says CAN (the code de­rives from the days Guangzhou was known as Can­ton) tal­lied 45,040,340 pas­sen­gers.

CAN is cer­tainly not un­known to the le­gions of Chi­nese who use the air­port yearly. It’s North Amer­i­cans who may not be fa­mil­iar with the con­nec­tiv­ity op­tions Guangzhou of­fers. That ab­sence of aware­ness is driven by a cou­ple of facts: flight fre­quency and lo­ca­tion.

First, there are but two daily non­stops from this con­ti­nent to CAN, both of them via Guangzhou-based China South­ern. An A380 makes the 7,217-mile trans-Pa­cific jour­ney from Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional, while a 777 does the duty on a shorter 6,338-mile trip from Van­cou­ver.

Sec­ond, Guangzhou, ar­rayed along the north­ern reaches of the phe­nom­e­nal­ly­pop­u­lous Pearl River Delta, is a mere 75 miles north by north­west of Hong Kong. HKG is per­ma­nently etched on the radar screen of many an in­ter­na­tional trav­eler. Guangzhou, de­spite its po­si­tion as China’s third-largest city, lies in the per­cep­tual shadow of Hong Kong’s Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion.

De­spite its com­par­a­tive dearth of air routes to North Amer­ica (con­sider that

Hong Kong has seven non­stop routes to the United States and Canada com­pared to Guangzhou’s two), Guangzhou takes a rear-cabin rank­ing to no one when it comes to its pen­e­tra­tion of China proper. Guangzhou-based China South­ern Air­lines boasts the largest fleet any­where in Asia, and the most pas­sen­ger-car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of any air­line in China.

The car­rier lays claim to what it calls “the most ex­ten­sive route net­work within China,”many of those do­mes­tic runs em­a­nat­ing from its head­quar­ters city of Guangzhou. The ros­ter reads like an at­las of the coun­try: Chongquing, Dailan, Guilin, Ji­nan, Tian­jin, Xi­a­men. The list of non­stop cities out of CAN on China South­ern is as rich as the vis­cous, silty Pearl River which runs through the heart of Guangzhou.

All told, China South­ern serves some 193 cities ar­rayed among 35 coun­tries and re­gions. Among them they pump out 1,930 daily flights. Guangzhou is the epi­cen­ter of the ef­fort. See why it’s so hard to slap the ‘stealth’la­bel on the place?

Needed Ex­pan­sion

Less than ten years ago in 2004, Baiyun In­ter­na­tional re­placed a com­par­a­tively smaller air­field by the same name. So fast has China South­ern’s traf­fic grown, so in­creas­ingly im­por­tant has the whole of Guang­dong Prov­ince (the area in which Guangzhou is lo­cated) be­come, that the “new”Baiyun In­ter­na­tional is al­ready burst­ing at its metaphor­i­cal seams.

There’s a third par­al­lel run­way get­ting built just now. It’s set to open in 2014, and is pro­jected to in­crease hourly flight ca­pac­ity by some 40 per­cent. That’s crit­i­cal, be­cause in terms of take­offs and land­ings, CAN is the sec­ond-busiest air­port in China. To ac­com­mo­date the fly­ers who flock to the fa­cil­ity some 17 miles from city center, a sec­ond ter­mi­nal is also go­ing up, and should be ready to start han­dling pas­sen­gers by 2016.

The Present Setup

The cur­rent sin­gle ter­mi­nal is an ex­pan­sive, airy af­fair – and in­creas­ingly crowded. It’s split into two sec­tions: A and B. All in­ter­na­tional de­par­tures are via the A area. Se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion lines can be long and lan­guid at CAN, so it’s best to build in a pad, one that al­lows you am­ple time to pass from the non-ster­ile“land­side”part of the air­port to the ster­ile“air­side.”

Head to No. 1, East Cor­ri­dor and you’ll find one of the best air­port en­claves in all of Asia. China South­ern is se­ri­ous about cater­ing to the peo­ple who in­habit the pointy end of the air­plane, up in first and busi­ness class. The car­rier’s Sky Pearl In­ter­na­tional VIP Lounge is open to fron­tend fly­ers,VIPs, Sky Pearl gold and sil­ver card mem­bers as well as SkyTeam elites. It’s a bi-level af­fair, with a din­ing area on the first floor. No mere fruit and cheese menu here. The lounge sports ori­en­tal and western fare.You’ll find dishes such as pasta for lunch, as well as teriyaki chicken and sweet and sour fish.

Deep in­side the Sky Pearl lounge there’s a mas­sage room and sleep­ing area, the per­fect way to work out the kinks or get a bit of shut-eye be­fore the flight. An al­ter­nate way to re­fresh is a shower. This lounge sports three of them.

If you’re not fly­ing China South­ern, or don’t have a seat up front, try the Plaza Pre­mium Lounge near Gate A05. It’s pay for play. And is open from 7:00 AM till 1:00 AM ev­ery day of the week.

Free, but a bit en­tailed to ac­cess, is the air­port’s com­pli­men­tary WiFi. To get to it you need your mo­bile phone num­ber or your Sina Weibo ac­count. Weibo is the Chi­nese mi­croblog.

If you’re in search of a place to charge up, there are some 63 multi-func­tional booths through­out Baiyun. They have coun­tryspe­cific pow­erports and USB plugs.

Some­what eas­ier to ac­cess than WiFi is the air­port ho­tel. The Ho­tel Pull­man Guangzhou Baiyun Air­port is stylish, savvy and five-star. Reached via a three­minute walk from the De­par­ture Hall of CAN, the rooms meet a tired trav­eler’s first re­quire­ment: they’re le­git­i­mately sound­proofed. The 460-room ho­tel boasts five restau­rants and bars, a spa, swim­ming pool and fit­ness center. If you’ve got an early morn­ing flight to catch from the air­port you might want to con­sider check­ing out of your city center ho­tel the evening be­fore and trans­fer­ring to the Pull­man. Saves lots of angst, and tons of time bat­tling morn­ing traf­fic.

You can avoid ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic, if not the press of the crowd, by tak­ing metro line 3 from city center out to the air­port. Cen­tral Busi­ness Dis­trict to CAN is about a 30-minute train ride. Many Guangzhou trav­el­ers, how­ever, opt in­stead to take the air­port shut­tle from the CBD.

If you’re will­ing to make the 40-minute drive to down­town and still want a five-star stay con­sider the Crowne Plaza Guangzhou Huadu, ten min­utes from the air­port. It’s a 299-room prop­erty re­plete with 24-hour room ser­vice and free WiFi. The req­ui­site swim­ming pool and fit­ness center come along with the deal and there’s plenty of meet­ing space.

Just Pass­ing Through

Want to see where Can­tonese cook­ing got its name, per­haps ex­plore the nooks and cran­nies of old Can­ton? If you can ex­tend your trip, are a for­eign na­tional from one of 45 coun­ties – in­clud­ing the United States and Canada – hold a third-coun­try visa re­plete with on­ward air­line ticket, then you can break away from the air­port for as many as 72 hours sans visa and see the city. It’s worth it. The deal doesn’t work if you’re just mak­ing a round-trip. That means your desti­na­tion and point of de­par­ture can­not be the same.

Guangzhou the city, like Baiyun the air­port, is one of those mis­tak­enly un­der­es­ti­mated‘Point Bs’peo­ple pass through en route to their way to their ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive. To­day, that fi­nal desti­na­tion is apt to be among the ubiq­ui­tous mil­lion-per­son cities that dot China’s land­scape. If one of those is where you’re headed, likely the board­ing pass wait­ing for you will have CAN on it.

You can all but count on it. BT

Above: Sky Pearl In­ter­na­tional VIP Lounge

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