Haneda’s nighttime services falling short with travelers

by Takahiro Fukada

Opening up Tokyo’s Haneda airport to more international flights was supposed to make a lot of sense for travelers.

But only open since October, the new international terminal has already sparked a raft of passenger complaints, particularly about the lack of amenities late at night and early in the morning, including inexpensive public transportation and even free shuttle bus service between terminals.

The criticism is in sharp contrast with Haneda’s easy access from the city center during daytime. It takes less than an hour to get from central Tokyo to the airport, which provides flight connections to numerous cities around Japan.

But there is no hotel in the 24-hour international terminal, no trains or buses to and from downtown after around midnight, and effectively no free wireless Internet connection throughout the terminal.

The scale of the facility is disappointing to many travelers. Few restaurants and shops are open overnight and passengers have to make do, finding vacant chairs to try to get some sleep.

“What can you say about an airport terminal without a hotel,” said Masahiro Yamaguchi, a 50-year-old investment banker and company manager who recently traveled to Singapore from Haneda.

Terminal 2, for domestic flights, does have a hotel. But 20-year-olds Narayan Lee and Cheryl Phua, who on a recent evening arrived from Singapore at around 11:15 p.m., said they couldn’t get a room because the hotel was fully booked.

Adding insult to injury, it cost them ¥1,300 in taxi fare just to get back to the international terminal from Terminal 2 because the shuttle buses had stopped running for the night.

Haneda Excel Hotel Tokyu says it has 387 rooms. The Singapore Tourism Board, meanwhile, says its airport hotel, Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, has 320 rooms. Changi’s three terminals also have transit hotels with a total of 73 rooms.

While passengers using Haneda late at night or early in the morning are forced to go by car or take a taxi because public transportation has stopped running, Singapore’s tourism board says shuttle buses are available around the clock there, connecting hotels in the city and the airport.

The two Singapore travelers, Lee and Phua, considered taking a taxi to Shinjuku.

“A cab will be faster, but it will be more expensive,” Lee said.

Other passengers also complained about the lack of nighttime public transportation.

Chet Thapa, a 29-year-old Indian cook from Kanagawa Prefecture, arrived at the terminal around 11:20 p.m. — even though his flight to Seoul would not be taking off until 6:25 a.m. the next day.

“Because my check-in time is 4 a.m., I can’t get here in time by bus, by train,” Thapa said. “If possible, I want a bus running early morning, around 3 a.m.”

Toshio Tamamura, a 72-year-old company executive from Kanagawa Prefecture who was catching a 6 a.m. flight for Singapore, said Haneda’s parking garage saved him a lot of money.

Compared with train services to and from Narita International Airport or staying at a nearby hotel, he said Haneda’s parking fees are terrific.

The cost for a regular vehicle is capped at ¥1,500 per 24 hours and is even lower beyond 72 hours — a flat rate of ¥1,000 per 24 hours, said the terminal’s operator, Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp.

Tamamura was lucky, however. “Those who can’t drive would be in trouble” late at night or early in the morning, he said. “There’s no point if you don’t drive here.”

Having arrived at Haneda around 9 p.m. and waiting for her connecting 6:50 a.m. flight to Sapporo, Angela Tsang, a 31-year-old airline customer service officer from Hong Kong, complained about the lack of free Wi-Fi access.

The wireless Internet service is free anywhere in the terminal — but only when viewing websites related to Tokyo International Air Terminal. Select travelers meanwhile get free access in private airline lounges.

“I understand in Japan maybe (Wi-Fi is) not very popular,” Tsang said. But spending time in the terminal without it is “so boring.”

With a Wi-Fi connection, “at least I could use my iPhone to search and chat with my friend,” she said. “When travelers need to do something on the Internet for their booking, at least they can do it right away, instead of asking the airline people.”

Tsang said she found that the pay computers in the terminal only accept Japanese coins, not bills. “I think they can improve this kind of facility. This should be basic.”

Tsang also complained that the information desk didn’t know about the opening and closing times of the domestic terminals, where she was refused entry by a security guard even after inquiring about the hours beforehand with the information counter in the international terminal.

“I’m so angry,” said Tsang, who was carrying around a 27-kg snowboard. “Information counter staff should know very well about the terminal facility — opening and closing times.”

After arriving at around 10:30 p.m., Paula Blanchard, a government employee from Arizona on her way to Okinawa, was waiting in the international terminal for a domestic flight at 6:05 a.m. “That’s very inconvenient that I can’t go to the terminal I need to be at,” she said.

Because the shuttle bus service connecting the international and domestic terminals ends around midnight, Blanchard had to wait in the international terminal until 5 a.m., when the buses would start running again.

She was worried if she would have enough time in the domestic terminal. “When I get back to Terminal 1, I’m going to be in a panic,” she said. “That’s kind of stressful.”

Yamaguchi, the investment banker and company manager, travels abroad around twice a month. He stressed that Haneda airport is too small compared with Changi in Singapore and Seoul Incheon International Airport.

“With this scale, it is clear that (Haneda) will never be able to become a hub if you look at those airports,” he said. “Even combining Narita, Kansai and Haneda, they won’t match up with their (rivals’) sizes.

“Because there is no policy, goal or philosophy on airport administration, taxpayers’ money is spent on making only half-finished ones and people’s money is being wasted,” he said.

Yamaguchi also complained that few shops in Haneda are open 24 hours.

While admiring Haneda’s clean and pleasant image, Kim Sang Soo, a 43-year-old company manager from Busan, South Korea, waiting in the terminal for a 4:30 a.m. flight back home, likewise was disappointed that only a few shops are open overnight.

Kim said Incheon has bigger facilities and holds frequent events introducing Korean culture to its visitors.

“If you go to Incheon airport, you will feel Incheon airport is better than Haneda,” he said.

Late at night and early in the morning, people were spotted sleeping in arrival and departure lobbies and the shopping area.

“In Changi, this won’t happen because people can find places to rest,” Yamaguchi said.

The Singapore airport’s garden, lounge and movie theaters are open all night, according to its website.

“Services (provided at Haneda) are very far from good,” Yamaguchi said.

A 39-year-old female government employee from Saitama Prefecture who didn’t want her name used said she arrived from Seoul at around 3:20 a.m. and rested comfortably in one of the “refresh rooms” in the arrival lobby.

“Since I could rest there, I found it very convenient,” she said.

Tokyo International Air Terminal says it has shower rooms that can be used for 30 minutes at a price of ¥800 or a small room equipped with a reclining chair, alarm clock and blankets for ¥1,000 an hour. But it has only 10 of these small rooms and six shower rooms, and a little after midnight one December night they were almost fully occupied.

Miyuki Tsukao, a spokeswoman for Tokyo International Air Terminal, said the company does and will continue to do anything it can to meet users’ requests.

The passenger comments gleaned by this reporter “are also really the voices that customers have given us many times,” Tsukao said. “We are coping with them wherever we can.”

On the lack of public transport in off hours, Tsukao said the terminal operator can’t solve the issue alone, but it hopes to continue to coordinate with the government and transportation operators “to improve (the situation) even a little.”

Regarding shops’ operating hours, Tsukao said the firm is asking tenants to extend them but can’t force them to do so.

But Tsukao suggested there is no point in comparing Haneda with Changi because government policies between Japan and Singapore are so different.

“The service provided there is really wonderful,” she said. “We can’t do all it does.”