Beijing International Terminal 3 and The Quality Of Chinese Products

international manufacturing lawyers

Just arrived in Beijing a few hours ago. Came in via the new Terminal 3. Here is what I was thinking from the time I arrived to the time I unbelievably quickly cleared customs:

  1. It’s huge
  2. It’s huge
  3. It’s so incredibly big
  4. It’s awesome
  5. It’s huge

Co-blogger Steve Dickinson arrived in Beijing from Shanghai (where he lives) around 20 minutes before I got here from Seoul and I called him to figure out where to meet. We decided we would meet in front of the Starbucks in the domestic terminal. I took a three minute train and found the Starbucks and called him again. Turned out I was in the wrong terminal so had to take a bus to Terminal 2. The bus took about 15 minutes and it was hotter than hell.

More thoughts on the new terminal:

1. It’s really incredibly large
2. It actually works
3. It’s not bad looking. Not bad at all.
4. Why are the damn shuttle busses packed to the gills and not air conditioned?
5. Why are the terminals so far apart that at one point I thought I might have accidentally gotten on the bus going to the city center, not another terminal?

Got to Terminal 2 and found Steve.

Read up a bit on Terminal 3 and all this got me to thinking. Heathrow has been having all kinds of problems with its new terminal. Denver International barely worked during its first couple of years. And yet, Beijing builds the largest terminal ever and it seems to work flawlessly from day one.

So here’s my question. How can this be accomplished and yet securing quality products from China’s factories is so damn difficult?

21 responses to “Beijing International Terminal 3 and The Quality Of Chinese Products”

  1. Terminal 5 doesn’t work for the same reason that the London Underground suffers from continual ‘staff shortages’ and ‘signal failures’, the same reason that British Rail had perhaps the worst rail service in Europe and privatisation has somehow managed to make it worse, the same reason the Millenium Dome was a failure and the Millenium Bridge ended up almost falling apart, the same reason that British Airways treats its economy passengers like trash, the same reason that England seems incapable of winning the world cup and for the same reason that the 2012 olympics will most probably be a disaster – pure slap-dash British-syle laziness and commitee-think. It’s not that we can’t surprise the world on occasion, but every time some major world event when we know the attention of the rest of the world will be on us we somehow manage to fluff it. Of course, it doesn’t help that the newspapers leap on any sign of failure as a national tragedy, but it’s fair enough to say that this is the case.
    Chinese suppliers, on the other hand, cut costs with intent, and will try to turn the biggest short-term profit they can.

  2. I believe that if you had USD 3.6 billion to burn, you wouldn’t have any trouble finding good quality products.
    I think it would be more interesting to take a look at why Beijing works smoothly while Heathrow/Denver don’t.

  3. I hate to be overly critical of China, but they do seem to have some serious problems with building maintenance. I have stayed at some relatively new apartments and hotels and all seem to have some mysterious plumbing problems, paint peeling off the walls and various other problems. Not long after the new line 5 train opened I noticed vents missing with big gaping holes in the sides of the train. Wait for a couple more months and see what happens.

  4. “So here’s my question. How is it that this can be accomplished and yet securing quality products from China’s factories is so problematic?”
    Have you read Harney’s new book “The China Price”? It’s “not bad”.

  5. you didn’t just seriously ask that question…..
    surely the difference in culpability and rewards and punishments are obvious here. The difference between the (hypothetical) shoe manufacturer that cuts costs with glue that is not waterproof so the shoes melt in the rain who still gets his payday then moves onto the next buyer ….compared to what will happen if you are given the responsibility to build a terminal – or olympics – or whatever….. big promotion if you pull it off…. but very different consequences to the shoe manufacturer if you stuff it up. In a word: rewards and punishments – big motivators.
    Gotta compare apples with apples.

  6. “How is it that this can be accomplished and yet securing quality products from China’s factories is so problematic?”
    Because quality control of a million factories is not carried out in any centralized way comparable to managing one terminal?

  7. “4. Why are the damn shuttle busses packed to the gills and not air conditioned?”
    Because it’s not about the people or the service, it’s about the building. The people will manage somehow. So you put gazillion dollars into the structure and 2 seconds thought about the service. You can come up with many examples like this of other some fantastic infrastructure in China (usually foreign designed) with seriously handicapped service which is not necessarily due to budget constraints. Having said this, Heathrow is the airport from hell and it’s in the UK.

  8. Why does it work? First, you’re “overwhelmed with size” just like every one else that comes to China for the first time. Everything is so big and new you’re deluded into thinking that big means good/great or effective/efficient. It doesn’t. Use the airport a few times, the “bigness” will wear off.
    Second, “new” in China means still working “under-capacity.” The airport is not at full capacity and so neither are the facilitates you’re using. Wait a while.
    Finally, there are certain advantages to having a totalitarian system and no labor unions. This is not a slam, but a fact. Things get done faster and often with much less conflict over silly things like customer service, workers’ rights and other SC issues.
    Enjoy the trip today and then come back next year and see if you have the same comments.

  9. It looks to be a good copy of the Hong Kong airport with a few bells and whistles that aren’t so dandy, like the shuttle service between far-apart terminals that you mentioned. China is excellent at copying, especially at making sure the copies aren’t as good as the originals.

  10. The new terminals in Shanghai and Beijing are both beautiful. I believe eventually there will be a shuttle running between the terminals instead of the bus, because it is a real hike, but the terminal compares extremely favorably to the HK airport, including lots of dining and shopping options. One of my favorite things, the first Burger King in Beijing.

  11. That’s all swell, but having flown into and out of BJT3 international recently, two questions:
    1) Could they not have put some kind of store other than luxury boutiques and Olympic souvenir stands inside security?
    2) Could they not have managed one bookstore or magazine stand in International? Even a Chinese one?
    Sorry, but if Changi and Chek Lap Kok are the Manhattan of airports, BJT3 is Buffalo with nice architecture.

  12. My wife and I just went through the old international terminal the day before the new opened. I am glad its all working, I just was thrilled we were not the guinea pigs. Oh, and did you know that there are only around 50 Starbucks in Beijing?

  13. by and large, the construction industry in China is a few steps behind the rest of the world. Remember, the industry isn’t too far removed from building the monstrous soviet-era, cookie-cutter, concrete slab apartment buildings. I’ve had the misfortune of investing in several apartments in Beijing and Shanghai…from run-of-the-mill to high-end “foreigner friendly”. All of them had similar degrees of problems with plumbing, water leakage (from rain), and overall build quality.
    Large-scale commercial projects, especially the ones with foreign supervision should hopefully be exceptions to this rule, but only time will tell.

  14. All this talk of construction reminds me of the university I was at when I first came to the mainland. Their new campus was quite a sight, until you noticed the rusticles hanging down from the concrete beams. Word was this was due to substandard material being used by the constructors on the say-so of the university vice president, and that he was pocketing the difference in price between the sub-standard materials being used and the higher quality ones that were necessary to prevent rusting of the steel reinforcings in the concrete. Of course he disappeared not long afterward, and the rumour for that was that he had got one in the neck pour encourage les autre.
    Even if these rumours are all true though, it still goes to prove my point that when someone stiffs you my using low quality materials they are doing it on purpose and to make a quick (if risky) profit. When BA, BAA and the various unions conspire to turn Heathrow into the kind of place where they need to put up posters telling people not to abuse the staff, this is because of a mixture of sheer bloody-mindedness and contempt for Joe Public. Beijing doesn’t suffer so much from this peculiarly British syndrome. Not having the union on your back helps also – ASLEF train drivers working on the London underground make 40,000 quid a year (that’s 80,000 US dollars), have 9 weeks paid annual leave and a 35-hour working week – and they still manage to go on strike once every few years, as well as making me late for with the inevitable monday morning delays due to ‘staff shortages’.

  15. China can do anything as long as it puts its mind to it – in the same way it’s preparing for the Olympics, planting trees/ (attempting) topiary, building motorways and hotels. Life can be really smooth if you choose the right thing to be interested about.
    It’s funny how capitalism is sometimes seen as advancing progress through uneven wealth distribution. In light of China, democracy seems to be what’s slowing us down.
    People do lose out, eg. those who happen to own a family home next to the new bridge (or those who built the Great Wall with their hands) or next to the airport? Progress vs. sacrifice?

  16. Dan,
    I was in Beijing’s Terminal 3 for the first time on April 14, and had exactly the same sensation as you on the jam-packed, unmarked shuttle bus. Ten minutes into the ride, on a highway past pastures and buildings, I was sure I had got on the wrong bus. But, lo and behold, eventually the other terminal loomed ahead. On the return trip, with slow baggage delivery from the domestic flight from Shanghai, 2 hours was barely enough to make my connection home.
    As to your question, I agree with on the point of reward and punishment. The BJ airport needs to be a shining jewel for global visitors come the Olympics, and the government will make sure it is. Perhaps the Brits should have hired some Chinese to work in Terminal 5 at Heathrow before inviting the Queen out to open it.

  17. The nice(maybe) thing about these huge and far-apart terminals is that you can just wander around and kill time without noticing it (assuming you don’t have much luggage). I walked casually between terminal 1 and 2 for a few rounds in Pudong the other day when waiting to pick up a friend. I got there way too early because the Maglev was so incerdibly fast.

  18. “And the train between stations is already working and has been from day 1. Lets get some accuracy of reporting here huh it’s not too much to ask. ”
    Gee, Dan, you didn’t know that you were really on a train, not a bus? You must have been really jetlagged.

  19. “The BJ airport needs to be a shining jewel for global visitors come the Olympics, and the government will make sure it is.”
    When was the last time China intended for something to be a shining jewel for global visitors and actually succeeded? Terminal 3’s size, design and vision are impressive and world-class, I’ll give you that. But we are joining the Chinese leadership in self-delusion if we think its operational efficiency between Aug. 8 and Aug. 24 – and for some time thereafter – will be anywhere close to satisfactory.
    I’ve flown into this terminal three times. Each time, after a series of walks, rides and/or waits in immigration, I’ve found myself staring at a stationary baggage carousel. Last time, I asked an airport worker why the holdups with luggage. “Well, it’s just a drawback of having such a big airport,” he said. “It just takes a long time to transport the luggage down here.” He added that one group of passengers recently waited for an entire hour to pick up their bags.
    Security checks for outgoing flights are also a headache: insufficient space around the X-ray machines, slow examination of baggage, backed-up queues of items on the conveyor belt waiting to run through the machine.
    I’ve not been to Heathrow’s new terminal or Denver – but I am highly annoyed with Beijing’s T3. I believe this is an airport that won’t run properly until a new, more capable generation of managers and employees comes of age.

  20. I’d also like to ask if anyone can comment on the significance of Starbucks’ placement in Terminal 3 outside the security check, rather than inside (as it is in Terminal 2’s international concourse). Seems like a slam to Starbucks and a serious sales killer for them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *