Impressive Munich Airport to Become More So

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MUNICH, Germany -- If international travelers could design an airport, they probably would want an immigration station just a few feet from the door of the plane. They probably would position the baggage claim area not too much farther away. In the Ultimate Dream Airport, customs inspectors would be stationed adjacent to the baggage claim area. Most of all, airport personnel would behave as if they were actually expecting the plane to land.

That, in fact, is how Munich Airport works.

Passport officials move from one station to another, all located on a gallery near the doors through which passengers arrive, to meet each flight. For international flights, the baggage carousel is just below the arrival point and is visible from the gallery.

Customs officials are a few feet away. Each "module" of the terminal is self-contained and fully equipped, and passengers can be out so quickly that they barely notice anything about the airport.

That's a pity. As airports go, it's a nice-looking place: clean lines, lots of white trim and plenty of glass to let in light. Clutter is at a minimum because airport authorities maintain strict control over the types of signs that can be put up; counter cards, for example, are a no-no. Passenger lounges have seats with footrests for the weary. Few things are perfect, of course, and there is a daily "needle hole" -- outbound passport control and security -- that creates congestion in the afternoons.

But Munich is finally going to embark on an expansion project that is actually a realization of its initial plan. The original design, created in the 1960s, called for an H-shaped complex. But in a saga that will be familiar to many involved in airport development, local communities balked at the idea of such a huge facility in their midst. They took their gripes to court in a case that lasted more than a decade. The outcome was a design that was significantly reduced in size and that lopped off one side of the H; the airport was now a T.

But Munich and its environs have changed over the years. It is, of course, the home of BMW, whose presence is hard to miss, and it also has become a high-tech enclave; the German unit of Oracle, for example, is headquartered here. Munich also has Germany's highest employment rate and highest spending power. In other words, there are lots and lots of Munich residents who take to the skies every year on business, and all of them have to pass through that needle hole. So public support has swung in favor of expanding the airport, and by 2002 the T will become an H.

Although Munich's two runways are not used at full capacity -- they currently handle 80 flight movements an hour but could handle 90 -- recent record high load factors on flights in and out of the airport have strained other facilities. US Airways station manager Barbara Weiretter said, "There are no more gates, no more office space, no more counters." The new terminal building will double the capacity of the airport, she said, and it will house Lufthansa and its alliance partners.

Next year, Munich Airport Center -- almost certainly to be known as MAC -- will open, providing office space, a communications center and new shopping experiences.

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Taxis into the city can be pricey, but there are all sorts of nifty and inexpensive substitutes, fully described in the Public Transport brochure, printed in German and English and available at stands throughout the airport.

The Lufthansa Airport Bus, which carries passengers from all airlines, costs 15 deutsche marks (or 25 roundtrip) and makes two stops: the central rail station in the city center and the Schwabing area, home to a lot of businesses and the Marriott and Ramada hotels. The bus operates every 20 minutes, and the trip from city center takes about 45 minutes. The bus stops in front of each of the airport terminals.

Munich's rapid transit system serves the airport as well. The line is called the S-Bahn, and it makes several stops in the city center. A one-way ticket costs 13.60 deutsche marks.

Passengers going farther afield can take the S-Bahn and make connections to the German Railway at Ostbahnhof, Hauptbahnhof (the main station) or Pasing. Several Munich hotels operate airport shuttle buses.

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