Berlin Tegel Airport

Belin Tegel location

Extended curbside from one end of Tegel to the other but drop off at the right location means 30m from terminal entry to departure gate

First thing that struck me when I entered Terminal A at Tegel was ‘why did taxi drop me off on arrival floor and where’s the escalator to departure and check in hall’? It then occurred to me that I’m at Berlin Tegel, apex of two things the world needs more of: mid-century modernist design and German efficiency.  Integrated ebb and flow of arrival and departure on single floor with maximum distance from taxi curb to departure gate of less than 30m.  This is made possible by hexagonal design of Terminal A which eliminates  transit zone and allows that each gate with its own departure security clearance  and arrival exit.

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Hexagonal design of Tegel Terminal A, Berlin, Germany

This does mean an extended curb side from one end of the airport to the other but this is inconsequential as long as you’re dropped off at the near vicinity your airline counter of choice. Through the automatic double doors of hexagonal terminal A, step into your airline check-in queue, enter the departure alley into security check and you’re immediately faced with your departure gate.

Thank God for the mini-duty free kiosks in front of each gate since I had over an hour to idle now what usually takes 30min even in the most efficient Asian airports took less than 5. So abruptly short is the journey from check-in to your gate compared to kilometres of meandering I’ve become accustomed to in star architect designed megalo-ports, the boarding experience is refreshingly bewildering. Sure, Tegel is a vestige of the old air travel days when airports served lighter demands but looking up Wikipedia reveals 20Mn passengers passed though it in 2016 so it’s no mignon of transportation hub. While Naritas, Chep Lap Koks and Changis may justify their ever sprawling addition of terminals with distant connections even before air travel, more regional airports should take cue from Berlin Tegel in operational design. Haneda and Gimpo (two secondary airports in major connection hubs) take note in their next renovation plan, please.

Narita Express into downtown Tokyo

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Narita Express gets you to Tokyo station fast and inexpensively, unless your destination is close to Ueno station

Narita Express (JR NEX) is the fastest and most convenient way to travel from Narita (T1 or T2/3) and Tokyo station. It takes 50min from T2 to Tokyo station (3min more from T1).  Depending on your destination, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku can also be your drop off point.

For the return trip to Narita, NEX stops in T2 first and then subsequently T1. For those traveling to T3, add about 15 min walk or 10min free shuttle from T2.  In Tokyo NEX station, NEX train and Rapid train shares the platform so look for the carriage number of your train. NEX trains arrive to the platform in two batches: cars 7 to 12 first and the a couple of minutes later 1 to 6. If your car is between 1 to 6, don’t panic and run after the wrong train. Stay calm and wait for yours.

My flight from Narita usually leave late afternoon so I check out from the hotel, head to Tokyo station for a sashimi don and Yebisu Premium Malt in one of the upscale malls in Tokyo station before I get on NEX.  My favorites are in the underground hallway between KITTE and TOKIA buildings. I store my stuff in one of the nearby lockers so I can roam around free. Finding an available locker is near impossible at Tokyo station so trick is to look for available ones on the less crowded level B4 of Marunouchi line Tokyo Station Central and South exits (just above NEX platforms on B5).  For those arriving at Tokyo station using Marunouchi line metro on B1, this should be easy to find.

At the time of writing, NEX return ticket was discounted to JPY 4,020, from full fare 6,040.  JR Rapid Train is cheaper (at 1,320 one way) than Limited Express (NEX) but Rapid Train looks like normal metro with both sitting and standing room.

Keisei Skyliner is another great option to travel into Tokyo if your destination is close to Ueno station. Travel time is 40min. At the time of writing Keisei Skyliner had one way into Ueno Station plus 1, 2, 3 day unlimited Tokyo metro ticket packages. My Skyliner one way plus 3D unlimited Tokyo metro package costed JPY 3,500. They have return trip plus metro packages but the discount pricing didn’t make much sense. When considering these ticket packages, note that Tokyo metro one-day open ticket is 600, a great deal if you’re planning to use four or more trips on metro (typical metro fare is 170).

Ueno Skyliner station is some walking distance from Ueno metro station so for those wanting to transfer should consider this walk.