When Aucklanders take a flight to Wellington or Christchurch these days they disembark into bright, attractive, spacious and comfortable air terminals. Not so when they return. The Auckland domestic terminal is a disgrace. It is dismal, ugly, poorly organised and long overdue for the kind of renovation the Wellington and Christchurch terminals have received in recent years.

Doubtless the other main trunk terminals have had the benefit of handling international as well as domestic travel; Auckland's international terminal has suffered none of the neglect that appears to have been the lot of the domestic terminal that languishes in a separate building. In fact the international terminal seems to be in a state of constant refurbishment and the results are mostly splendid. But Auckland is the nation's busiest gateway and the gate needs an upgrade on its domestic side too.

The airport company has plans for a major reconstruction and realignment of its facilities in five or 10 years. The plans were on display in the domestic departures area not long ago. In the meantime, chief executive Adrian Littlewood told our aviation writer last week that minor renovations will be made at the main pinch points inside a terminal which, he admits, has had "more than the proverbial nine lives".

Customer satisfaction surveys tell him the major frustrations are outside the building, over the forecourt and transport access, which is understandable. The road into the airport from the southwestern motorway is often congested. But that is largely because of the roadworks that will widen the access for cars, buses, taxis and shuttles.

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The airport company also wants to incorporate a dedicated public transport corridor in its ultimate redevelopment plans. It probably needs more clarity from the Government and the Auckland Council on the kind of public transport it should expect. Their plans appear to envisage both a tram line through Mt Roskill and Māngere to the airport, and a busway from Puhinui railway station.

"Light rail," said Littlewood, "is clearly the preferred option of the transport planners and so we leave it to the experts on that. We preferred some improved and quicker connectivity options."

The route to Puhinui crosses open land already owned by the airport and would allow a busway or a rail spur to be constructed relatively quickly. Light rail is still a gleam in the eye of Auckland Transport planners and the present Government. It is not among the projects scheduled to receive funds from the Auckland Council's proposed regional fuel tax and the Government has yet to indicate how it might be financed. The airport company should not let light rail hold up its terminal redevelopment plans, it can provide for a logical Puhinui connection in reasonable confidence that eventually logic will prevail.

It ought to be giving the city a decent domestic terminal much sooner than it is planning. The minor interior improvements it is planning in the interim will only prolong Auckland's embarrassment.