Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Making room to improve

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As I wandered through Auckland International Airport on Friday evening, en route for Sydney and the Mardi Gras, the familiar sounds of banging workers and whining power tools signalled that a revamp of the upstairs international departure area is under way.

This follows last year's upgrade of the arrivals area - about which I have mixed views - and represents the second part of an Airport Company plan to give the country a nice, new, modern gateway in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

It's easy to be cynical about the benefits of one of these revamps, especially if you've had to live through the inconvenience of the everlasting and ineffective upgrading of Queen St, but in the airport's case there is reason for optimism.

I say I have mixed views about the new arrivals area but that's only because I don't like the way passengers are forced to weave their way through displays of duty free goods in order to get to passport control - in a manner which reminds me of the unlovely Sydney Airport - and I don't like the fact that the Airport Company has eliminated competition and choice by only allowing one duty free company to operate.

But where it matters, when the time comes to queue to be admitted to New Zealand, the new facilities are definitely a big improvement and a lot better than what you'll experience at most airports in this part of the world.

I have heard from a few travellers who have suffered long delays at Auckland when several flights have arrived at once. But personally I've always found the arrivals hall to work extremely smoothly.

So, I do have confidence that the changes to the departures area will result in a better travel experience, even when it comes to food and drink.

The Airport Company says that phase one of the upgrade, which is underway now and should be completed by November, will involve improvements to what it calls the landside departure area, namely the shops, cafes and open spaces where you wait before going through to emigration.

The result, according to the airport's general manager of retail, Adrian Littlewood, will be a lighter, brighter, more user-friendly area with exciting new shops and improved cafe and dining space.

Phase two, from August to December, will see the emigration processing area improved and expanded.

Phase three, also starting in August but continuing until the middle of next year, will see improvements to airside - that's after you've gone through emigration - duty free shopping.

And phase four, from the middle of next year, will involve revamping the airside lounge, bars and cafes, and should be finished in time for the world cup.

In the light of the recent grumbles in this blog about airport food I naturally inquired whether the quality and variety of food could be expected to improve as a result.

"Yes," was the answer from an airport spokesperson.

"Absolutely. Two of the key drivers of the redevelopment of the departures area are an increase in emigration processing capacity and an improved food and beverage retail experience for travellers."

There's no doubt both those changes are long overdue.

The emigration area is decidedly cramped. And the food and drink on offer once you've gone through emigration is pretty limited.

Hopefully, then, the - so far fairly minor - inconvenience of the latest revamp will be worthwhile.

Certainly if it means I can get a decent breakfast while I wait for my early morning flights, I'll be happy.

- Jim Eagles

Pictured above: The changes to Auckland International Airport's departure lounge should make for a more pleasant travel experience.

- NZ Herald

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