Walking off an international flight into Bangkok’s new
Suvarnabhumi Airport, the world’s largest airport terminal takes
you into the belly of a gleaming machine. Exposed structural beams
and Teflon-coated wall panels alternate with oversized Thai
paintings bathed in warm light along cool, dim corridors. Curved,
white roof panels and broad glass walls two floors above create a
soaring, cathedral-like interior.
But two weeks after its sometimes-chaotic opening on Sept. 28,
Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-na-poom) remained a work in
progress. Every stunning artwork seemed matched with a construction
crew laying cable in the shadows or erecting walls. Early
baggage-handling problems had been solved, but many of the
airport’s two-dozen restaurants were reduced to sandwiches and
snacks until kitchen facilities were completed. A gleaming new
612-room Novotel is open and was 100 percent full, but a 200-yard
tunnel from the airport to the hotel lobby was still under
construction. Airline lounges are bright, cheerful and unfinished
EVA Airlines’ new lounge, for example, eclipses its Taipei base,
but like other carriers, EVA was still awaiting Internet
connections scheduled for September.
Airlines were promised gleaming new facilities and got them. The
dark and dingy recesses of 90-year-old Don Muang, Bangkok’s former
airport, are history. Suvarnabhumi’s main terminal has about 2
million square feet, glass walls and a largely transparent ceiling.
The energy-saving design uses natural light during the day and
focused lighting at night to slash power consumption.
New facilities include 120 check-in counters and 130 immigration
desks. Outside are 120 aircraft bays and the world’s tallest
control tower, 426 feet high.
The German-American-Thai design team decreed that bigger is
better for Suvarnabhumi. Don Muang handled 31.5 million passengers
the first nine months of 2006, 10 million beyond its design
capacity. Suvarnabhumi is built for 45 million passengers, with
planned expansions to boost capacity to 100 million passengers by
But bigger isn’t big enough. Combined traffic for Bangkok’s two
airports should hit 43.4 million for 2006, about 96 percent of
The departures area already felt as frenetic as Don Muang,
although Suvarnabhumi’s extra space was more obvious beyond
check-in. No more walking elbow-to-elbow or sitting on the floor at
And bigger is not perfect. Interior spaces are bathed in
daylight, but tropical sunlight also means heat. Airport tenants
complain that the building is too hot during the day and too dim at
night. The departures level, with no shade for staff or passengers
waiting to check in, can hit sweat level by mid morning.
Until airport managers find ways to shade the interior and beat
the heat, sunglasses, a hat and a big bottle of water will help
ease the wait.