SEPANG - Bring your good walking shoes to Malaysia's newest airport.
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 (KLIA2) - the new home for budget carriers including Air Asia, Tiger Air, Lion Air and Cebu Pacific - is a sprawling jumble of buildings attached to one another, and it's a long, long walk to get to anywhere from anywhere.
The gargantuan size of KLIA2, which opened on May 2, is mostly due to the fact that it also houses a mall called gateway@klia2. The airport is a hybrid of a mall and airport, with check-in counters and bag scanners mingling with stores and shoppers.
This, of course, means longer walking distances for passengers who are funneled past what seems to be an endless array of shops selling clothes, watches, toys, snacks, coffee and food. There are plenty of chic cafés and even a supermarket.
Public transport stops are located in the mall, with the bus stop placed at the furthest end.
After getting off the bus that came from the city, I had to lug my bulky bags through the mall to get to the terminal building where the check-in and bag drop areas are located.
Needless to say, I arrived frazzled and sweaty, having to dodge slowpoke shoppers while manhandling three bags.
I thought we would be able to heave a sigh of relief once we got into the passengers-only section but distances were just as far here, even though there were fewer shops and people.
It's still a bit of a hike to the departure gates, and it's also easy to get lost if you don't keep a sharp eye on the signage.
Many have griped about these long walks. That's the flipside of having more amenities and space, both of which were sorely lacking in the old airport terminal. Unlike the old airport, KLIA2 also uses aerobridges, 80 of them altogether, with 60 departure gates.
I, too, griped but really, the additional amenities are welcome. There are loads of cafés with enough seats, so passengers can get a cup of coffee without jostling. The space is wide enough to let passengers pass each other comfortably with heavy trolleys.
The bus stop was efficient and organised. It's much more pleasant to use the aerobridge than to walk on the tarmac to the plane; I always have this odd fear that I would someday end up in the wrong plane.
Of course, these facilities came with a price. And whether the price tag was too hefty is still a matter of contention. The opposition insists it's too high, and says KLIA2 is yet another example of the wasteful and unaccountable spending that plagues Malaysia.
Malaysia Airports - the owner and operator of KLIA2 - insists on the contrary. And probably to the bemusement of foreign tourists, it used KLIA2 as the site for this public relations war.
Notices have been plastered prominently in parts of the airport to refute claims that KLIA2 was overpriced, and that the cost was being passed on to the airlines and passengers.
One notice stated that Malaysia Airport's fees are the lowest in the world, as it charged only 25 sen (S$0.10) per passenger since 1981 to use the aerobridge, and RM9 in other charges per passenger on domestic flights.
Another notice stated that KLIA2 was 23 per cent cheaper to build than the old Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), based on per square metre basis. The new airport had cost RM4,280 per sq m compared to RM5,567 for the old one.
It also said the escalation of construction cost from RM2 billion to RM4 billion was not due to overruns but to the increase in building size, runway and other facilities.
Passengers can decide for themselves, although most were too busy checking in their bags or checking out the cafés.
Anyhow, do give it plenty of time if you're using this new airport especially for the first time, and yes, put on those comfy shoes.