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Airport planners should observe the Rand Rule

America's interminable election campaigns have spawned many quirky spin-offs, and one of this year’s has been a focus on the writer Ayn Rand.

It began when Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential contender, extolled Rand’s fiercely individualistic libertarian philosophy.

Although they’re not a recipe for a charitable way of life, it must be conceded that Rand’s doorstopper books do contain odd nuggets of enlightenment.

In her novel The Fountainhead, for instance, she writes: “When I stop at a port, it’s only for the sheer pleasure of leaving it.”

This is a sentiment most people share when it comes to airports. No one likes to spend a second longer in them than is necessary.

Yet this basic truism has escaped those responsible for many of this region’s airports, most notably Bangkok’s relatively new Suvarnabhumi International.

Last month, the aviation consultancy Skytrax rated Suvarnabhumi 13th in its rankings of the world’s best airports.

This was no surprise. Nor was the fact that the top three places were again taken by South Korea’s Incheon, Singapore’s Changi and Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok.

Suvarnabhumi is actually newer and more modern than that exemplary trio, so how come it lags so far behind?

The answer is that its planners ignored the Rand Rule and chose a design that is outwardly pretty and has lots of glitzy stores selling Gucci shoes, Prada handbags and Rolex watches, but is an absolute pain to navigate.

Travellers get snarled up in the narrow walkways between all those big (and mostly empty) boutiques, and they lose patience waiting at overcrowded check-in counters and in the cramped security and immigration areas.

All any passenger wants is to get to the departure gate as quickly and calmly as possible. The architects forgot that.

No one cares about an airport’s external appearance. Check out Changi: it looks like an assembly plant — but enter it, and there is space, calmness and ease of movement.

Suvarnabhumi’s shopping-mall design forces travellers to crowd together and leaves little room for room for seating, let alone for checking emails or watching television.

Admittedly, after a barrage of complaints, things have improved – and will likely improve even more when the budget airlines move to Bangkok’s old Don Mueang airport next week.

But there’s no way Suvarnabhumi will ever match Changi or Chep Lap Kok.

Having used Singapore’s air hub two or three times a year for more than two decades, I’m still amazed by its facilities and sense of harmony.

Basically, it has lots of the very thing that airports such as Bangkok, Jakarta and others lack: open space. That’s what makes Changi and Chep Lap Kok so pleasant.

Hong Kong’s airport, while not as homey as Changi, still rates as the best in this region and has the world’s most spectacular and efficient high-speed rail service into the city.

Malaysia’s KLIA has the aura of a rather cold, under-used suburban museum. Again, the blame lies with the planners, who located Kuala Lumpur’s new airport more than 70 kilometres from the city centre.

Regrettably, those responsible for Yangon’s new Hanthawady airport have made the same disastrous mistake and placed it way out near Bago, 80 kilometres from the city.

Will these guys ever learn? 

To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Mitton at rogermitton@gmail.com

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