A buddy was having an extra long weekend in Taiwan and asked if I want to join. With a mysterious virus lurking around the region, I didn't want to travel far at first, but Taiwan seemed relatively safe thanks to an anti-mainland government solidly elected last year. There was also redemption available for the trip at the last minute so why not?
To maximize my time in Taiwan, I was willing to take this 8:55am flight on a Saturday morning. With just hand luggage, I could enter the airport's doors an hour before departure and still comfortably make it.
However, my pre-departure itinerary is packed. With the airport expansion and third runway project well under way, I wanted to photograph the new Terminal 1 extension that opened in late November.
The new Aisle L actually is quite noticeable as its ceiling is much lower. The high ceiling structure from the original terminal structure was not extended here.
At these further reaches is Hong Kong Airlines, a mainland-backed airline that is near collapse and on the regulator's watchlist. Emergency funding only came in December, so perhaps these scenes may be history soon.
Today is also Lunar New Year's day.
With a health crisis looming across the border in Wuhan, hand sanitizer starting appearing everywhere across the city. After immigration formalities, I helped myself to this sanitizing kiosk. Those security trays and automated immigration kiosks can accumulate a lot of germs.
I rushed to the window to see a major construction project happening on the tarmac. The Sky Bridge connecting to the North Satellite Concourse is well under way, eliminating the annoying buses plying to the narrowbody gates. The structure was only hauled here on the 9th from the assembly point in the further stretches of the airport. It's massive.
It reminded me of Gatwick's bridge. There should be some awesome spotting opportunities up here.
Next stop is the Plaza Premium lounge near Gate 1. I used to be a happy customer here, boasting about its delicious fish ball noodles many years ago. I never paid for it of course because of my elite credit cards. However, it became a victim of its own success with many other credit cards granting free access. To cope with the crowds, the soup stock was downgraded and the cooking process was simplified, and the line to get in got progressively bigger. Even at such an early hour in the morning, the line was incredible.
Today's flight is on an A350 and continues to Japan from Taipei. While I have consciously tried booking flights with new aircraft over the years, Cathay's short-haul routes are notorious for equipment swaps down to a surprise at the gate, so I haven't been very hopeful to get what the schedule said. I guess I got lucky today.
Comfortably seated, I mellowed out as we pushed back and were on our way. The actual flight time of an hour is really short but the taxi to take-off would take 1/3 of that.
I quite enjoying this new type of aircraft. The tray table is complicated with 2 layers. Your drink can go on the upper deck and take up less of your valuable Economy class space.
We then took a long way around the airport to taxi into position.
HK is still a good airport to spot 747s. The white-painted one in the background on the white looks like that Orient Thai jet that has been stuck here for a few years already.
Taipei is only 800km away from Hong Kong, making it a perfectly do-able short haul escape and I have been a frequent visitor over the years. Just a few months earlier I visited Kaohsiung for a day trip and did another Taipei visit over the summer.
The weather was really cloudy today but at least they stayed above us during the initial ascent.
Aberdeen's typhoon shelter is rapidly getting more upscale. The sampans and fishing boats are making way for luxury yachts.
The novel coronavirus is giving quite a scare in the region. Just 2 days earlier, Taiwan mandated health declaration forms for all visitors from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. This form was distributed shortly after take-off. Anyone who has visited China in the 14 days before arriving in Taiwan had to monitor their health for 14 days after arrival.
Then came the simple meal, which is more than sufficient for this short flight. There was also a small Chinese New Year bonus in the red box.
With these new airplanes, wifi in the sky is starting to appear as an option. The price seemed reasonable for a longer flight of 6+ hours but I wonder how much data usage it gives?
The weather didn't improve much outside with thick clouds below.
Visibility was even worse for landing. I wasn't planning for outdoor activities upon arrival. My buddy had planned an exquisite lunch at his brand-name hotel and the rest of the afternoon would be planned after. I actually have explored a lot of Taipei already, and my list of to-do's has gradually shrunk over the years. I prefered the more outlying parts of Taiwan like Kinmen or Taitung that I covered in the previous year.
Taipei is a major airport for Cathay Pacific, and a huge section of Terminal 1 is typically parked full of its aircraft.
Before leaving my comfortable seat, I took a few more photos of the IFE and its improved interface.
One of the new functions on the IFE is live TV, which had a good selection to keep me informed of the news.
This plane would continue to Nagoya after the stop here.
I'm a frequent visitor to Taiwan, and in past visits, arrivals from particular regions were herded to extra screening for pork products just before immigration. I had thought we would go through something similar for the novel coronavirus. However, that wasn't the case. Health officials were right at the arrival gate collecting the health declaration forms, catching many by surprise. There was a huge traffic jam as confused travelers went to the sides to fill out their forms or even blocking the line to do so. Having completed my form during the flight and not wanting to stay within the crowd, I managed to jostle my way through.
With the bottleneck at the gate, the swine flu / pork product screening was far quicker.
Immigration did take some time as well, typical of this airport. During my past visits for business, I would normally get picked up by a driver or I would head for the taxi stand. I never got to try the Taoyuan MRT, the new but delayed airport train. With my hotel in the outskirts and a vacation budget, I could try this new train after all.
Getting to it took some time after wandering through a number of escalators and a long walk to the underground station. My Easycard worked here so it was fairly seamless.
The problem with these improved transport connections built after the airport opened is they can't truly integrate with the facilities. It is a much bigger hassle to haul heavy luggage here to take the train than to the buses. In Hong Kong, the trains going into the airport arrive at the departures while trains heading into the city depart at the arrivals level. That's efficiency.
I hopped onto an express train, which was clean and well-maintained with luggage racks and generous legroom. There is also a commuter train on the same line with a few more stops but fares are still the same.
The airport is actually not the final stop, so watch the platform signs carefully, or you will end up further out in Taoyuan.
My final destination would be Banqiao today, and the train offers an easy transfer, albeit still requiring a tap out and a tap back in, at the New Taipei Industrial Park for the new Circular Line, which was still under soft opening at the time of my visit and hence free to ride.
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