Munich Airport's Terminal 2 offers speedy transit

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MUNICH, Germany -- Five hours of speeches and fanfare seemed more apt for a king's coronation than the opening of an airport terminal.

Yet the Bavarian capital's $1.72 billion Terminal 2 certainly gives Munich airport authorities a cause to celebrate, and travelers are also likely to benefit from the airport's effort to become a leading European hub.

The glass and steel building has 124 check-in counters and a capacity for 25 million passengers annually.

Terminal 2, run by the airport authority and Lufthansa, is the first terminal in Europe to be specifically designed as a hub airport. It caters exclusively to the German flag carrier and its Star Alliance partners.

Airport officials tout Terminal 2's record-breaking passenger transfer time of 30 minutes, reportedly the lowest in Europe.

Munich already has achieved unique success since opening its first terminal more than a decade ago: Through July, it was one of only 10 hub airports to post positive passenger growth.

From the traveler's perspective, an expanded Munich Airport's advantage over an older airport such as Frankfurt -- Germany's other hub -- may be its smaller size, efficiencies and newer facilities.

For example, transfer passengers making tight connections are directed to separate passport control desks.

A guidance system makes it easier for passengers to reach connecting flights, with special transfer monitors leading passengers to their gates.

In addition, seven service centers are set up at central points.

For security reasons, North American travelers have their own arrivals and departures area. First-class and business-class passengers also have access to curbside check-in and their own security clearance area. These 10 curbside counters have a direct, high-speed link to the baggage system , according to officials.

Then there are the details: The 20 restaurants and 90 shops offer city prices that are no higher than what similar establishments would charge downtown.

Diners can choose from traditional Bavarian cuisine and beer, sushi and other Asian specialties. For kids, there is the Legoland playground and Legoland safari.

The airport has a festive atmosphere thanks to its shopping center and beer garden, which attract people from nearby communities.

Another surprising innovation is the AirportClinic, aimed at attracting medical tourism from countries where medical standards are not as advanced as Germany's. The clinic offers travelers a free medical test to check their risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (flying may increase the chance of getting this potentially deadly condition). The tests are administered by airport medical staff at a "Check-It-Point" located near gates H25-32.

The older Terminal 1, home to Europe's only airport micro-brewery, will now focus on point-to-point traffic.

North America is one of Munich's most significant markets, sending approximately 767,900 passengers a year to the airport, said officials; more than half of these arrivals are transfers. Munich offers connections to 12 North American cities via Lufthansa.

Coincidentally, the region of Bavaria -- with its storybook castles and pristine alpine landscapes -- is the top destination for travelers to Germany. (See "Lake region is unspoiled" for more on the region's Tegernsee area.)

Munich Airport received 23.2 million passengers in 2002 and, through aggressive marketing, plans to more than double that figure by 2015.

A pain to the plane?

The airport has one major disadvantage that even its boastful managers acknowledged: There is no high-speed transport link to Munich.

Taxis for the 24-mile ride cost upwards of $50 to $60, and the express train crawls to Munich's Central Railway Station in a 45-minute journey.

Germany does produce a high-speed magnetic-levitation rail train that it sold to Shanghai, but political squabbles have prevented airport authorities from introducing the train at home in Bavaria.

The Transrapid, as the train is called, would in theory cut the travel time between airport and city to eight minutes.

The Bavarian government still hopes to get it operating in 2009.

For more on Munich Airport's Terminal 2, visit www.munich-airport.de/EN/.

To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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