Don Mueang Airport vs KLIA2 Review

Review of Don Mueang and KLIA2 Airport Comparison

As a frequent traveller all these years, I have visited more than 50 different airports ranging from really small to mega world class airports, and I guess it is time that I put some focus on airport reviews now. 

This is not my first airport review as towards the end of this article, I will share some of my other airport reviews done over the last few years.

However, in this review, I would like to emphasise on the current budget or low cost terminals that have changed travel rapidly in the last decade, and it will focus on the Don Mueang International Airport and KLIA2, Malaysia's budget airline airport.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.
Review of the Don Mueang International Airport vs KLIA2

First and foremost, flying into Don Mueang airport  requires you to be on a budget airline, and for me, it was AirAsia that flies from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 or KLIA2 to the Bangkok budget terminal. 

As I have been flying into Bangkok for the last 30 years, using various airlines, I would like to share how Don Mueang was quite run down after Suvarnabhumi Airport took over as Thailand's international airport.

Don Mueang Airport Terminal Two
The new terminal two of Don Muang International. 
Since September 2006, all major airlines moved to the new international airport, and Don Mueang closed shortly for some renovations, only to reopen back in March 2007. Since then, the former airport was known as the low cost carrier airport of Bangkok. 

If you have been flying as long as I have, you would have known how bad the condition of Don Mueang was back in 2006 to 2013. But soon, it all changed to one of the most efficient airports in the region. 

Well, all I can say is that Thailand really valued tourism very much, and from 2013 to 2018, tremendous improvements have been done to make this one of the most easiest airports in Southeast Asia to visit. 

Below is a timeline of what Airports of Thailand did, and is still doing for the Don Mueang Airport;

  • September 2013 to May 2014 - Three billion Baht renovation for Terminal 2.
  • December 2015 - Completion of Terminal 2. Passenger capacity increased to 30 million a year.
  • December 2018 - 38 million passenger capacity achieved.
  • 2018 to 2024 - 38 billion Baht expansion plan, includes Terminal 3. 

When you look at the statistics and numbers for Don Mueang Airport, it is no surprise that Thailand is going full steam ahead for the tourism arrivals, and to do so, you need a fully functional airport that can handle this.

Thai Nok Air
Nok Air is one of the airlines that flies from Don Mueang
What Airlines Fly To Don Mueang Airport? 

There is no doubt that AirAsia is Don Mueang's biggest customer, with AirAsia Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia all landing there. However, there are also many other budget carriers that land here as well. They include;

  • AirAsia
    - Malaysia
    - Thailand
    - Philippines
    - Indonesia
  • Malindo Air
  • Nok Air
  • NokScoot
  • Scoot
  • JC International
  • Thai AirAsia X
  • Thai Lion Air
  • Tigerair Taiwan

As a hub for budget airlines, I have to say it is quite impressive to have so many different airlines landing here in Don Mueang, and if you look at KLIA2, in one hand, you can count the number of airlines that land here.

Don Mueang International Airport, outside.
Comparison of Don Mueang Airport and KLIA2

Malaysia is home to AirAsia, and we obviously have our own budget terminal, which is called the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2, or KLIA2 in short.

With that I assumed that our budget terminal would also be on par or perhaps better than other countries. Yes, Malaysia Airports has been trying hard to make the airports world-class over the last decade. 

However, when you do an apple to apple comparison, we are left far behind. Even though KLIA2 launched as a modern lifestyle budget terminal, everything did not flow as how an airport should flow. 

With that, let me just share with you the simple process of what happens when you go to an airport to check in for your flight, comparing both airports.

Don Mueang to Bangkok Central Distance
The distance of both airports, using Google Maps.
Distance to the Airport

KLIA2 - The distance from the city center to KLIA to is a whopping 58.3 kilometers, making this one of the furthest airports in Asia, if not the furthest. 

To drive here, it takes about 60 minutes, and sometimes up to 90 minutes one way, depending on traffic. The only good thing is that there is a train that gets you from KL Sentral to KLIA2 in 30 minutes. A Grab Car will cost you RM65.00 one way, minus toll charges. 

Don Mueang Airport - From the airport to Bangkok Central, it is only 23 kilometers in distance, and an average of 30 minutes drive. Grab Car only charges around 300 to 400 Baht, or you can even take the local bus and then change to the BTS for less than that. 

Conclusion - As KLIA2 is a beautiful airport without a proper system, it does not work in favour of the passengers. I will have to say that Don Mueang takes the prize here as the closest airport to a city.

KLIA2 Passenger Drop Off Area
The main drop off area of KLIA2. Photo by www.klia2.info
Arriving at the Airport

KLIA2 - When you arrive at departure area, you will find multiple lanes, with cars always hogging the drop off areas on the out most lane. Police or authorities are hardly seen monitoring this, or often at times, they are there but not doing anything. 

Plus the closest lane to the airport entrance is permanently blocked off for VIPs, and often the second lane can also be closed, leaving only the third and outer lane open. When this happens, there is a congestion in the third lane during peak hours, which can be frustrating.

One thing I always notice is the urgency of people that get dropped off at KLIA2. Sometimes, the entire family and neighbors want to tag along, and they spend a good ten minutes saying their goodbyes at the drop off areas.

Don Mueang International Airport drop off area
The drop off area at Don Mueang International Airport.
Don Mueang Airport - The main highway runs pass the airport and turning in is hassle free. When you arrive at the terminals, there is only one main road for vehicles to drop off passengers, and it is constantly monitored by airport authorities.

They are strict and no nonsense, and will chase away cars that wait there. Because of this system, there is hardly any traffic congestion here, and providing a smooth traffic flow. 

The terminals are also all laid out in an elongated format, so terminal one and two has their own drop off, which is part of a continuous road. Along both terminals, you will also find bus stops, taxi stops and the general car stop for dropping passengers off.

The great thing about this drop off area is that people get dropped off, and the cars dropping them will move on. If they want to say long goodbyes, they will usually park at the airport parking. 

Conclusion - Don Mueang wins this vote due to the simple and practical airport layout and flow. This makes it easy for travellers to maneuver from the drop off to the check in counter without much walking.

Authorities are extremely strict at the drop off areas in Bangkok, wherelse in KLIA2, they may or may not be there, and this is a loophole for locals taking advantage of the system.

Check In Counters at KLIA2
One of the check in counters at KLIA2.
Check-In Counters at the Airport

KLIA2 - Because of the lifestyle concept of having a mall and terminal linked together, Malaysia Airports makes passengers walk through the mall before reaching the departure terminal of KLIA2.

If you have been here before, you will know that you need to walk at least half a kilometer inside before you arrive at the check in counters of the departure terminal. 

Malaysians being always late, tend to rush for their check in and so on, and in most cases, they are always cutting it close. This has also become a local habit for those travelling.

Honestly, this concept does not work for a budget terminal, but I do not blame the airport designers for trying to be different, and in the end, it shows how passengers are always rushing to check in for their flights. 

This also means that you need extra time to walk from the main door of the drop off point, and I estimate around 10 minutes before you reach the departure hall, with a casual walk.

There is no direct drop off to the departure hall of the airport, hence please take not of this flaw.

Check In Counters at Don Mueang Airport
The distance from where you get dropped off and the check in counters. 
Don Mueang Airport - The minute you walk into the airport door, the check in counters are located just meters from the main doors. All you need to do is find out which row your counter is and head straight there. 

This layout is extremely functionable, and straight to the point with no hassles or distraction. Airports of Thailand or AoT in short, has made it easy for passengers to check in once they arrive at the airport, which is what it should be.

Don Mueang Airport AirAsia Check In Counter
Even how busy or stressed, the Thai AirAsia staff know how to maintain a pleasant smile. 
The only set back I found is that due to the popularity of the airlines, come of the check in counters can get crowded. But the airlines have overcome this with fast and efficient staff that keep the momentum moving, to avoid jamming up the areas. 

Conclusion - Again, Don Mueang Airport gets the vote due to a simple and functionable system where after you get dropped off, you are already at the check in area, without having to walk too far.

Shops at KLIA2 Gateway
Gateway KLIA2, the main shopping mall before the airport terminal.
Shops Layout at the Airport 

KLIA2 - Because of the KL Gateway mall being your main entry point, you can easily get distracted before checking in for your flight. There is good and bad in having this concept of a mall in an airport. 

Anyway, the mall is spacious, but the outlets tend to be occupied by only the big names or chains. One thing for sure is that you will not find any local small brands here, due to the excessively high rentals charged. 

The bad side of this is that because most travellers are always in a rush, many tend to just bypass the mall and head straight to the check in areas.

Retail shops KLIA2
When your gate is right at the end, you tend to hurry and will not stop at the retail shops along the way.
Honestly, how many times have you actually stopped to look at some of the shops, and if your gate is at the other end, you just tend to worry about reaching your gate. This results in the retail shops not doing well at all.

Those retail outlets nearest to the departure terminal tend to be the ones doing well, as after checking in, you can then explore the mall, provided you are not rushing. 

But here's the fun part - The main departure hall at KLIA2 also has some food, cafe and retail outlets, and this is rather confusing as it looks like the airport management just wants to fill the place up with retail outlets.

Restaurants Cafes Don Mueang Airport
How some of the restaurants and fast food shops are laid out conveniently.
Don Mueang Airport - Somehow, I find the departure area being very straight forward, where when you first arrive, you will be greeted by the check in area. Only after checking in, you will start to see the retail lots, and this is how an airport layout should be. 

The whole point of going to an airport is to check in for your flight, and then only you look for retail outlets, food or drinks. Correct me if I am wrong on this part, but it has been like that for all these years, so why change the flow? Don't you think so? 

After the second phase of renovations, Don Mueang Airport was very well laid out for the passengers. After checking in to your flights, you get your boarding pass, and for those who do not want to shop or eat, can immediately just cross over to the passport control area without any hassle.

Boarding Gates Don Mueang Airport
The perfect layout  for passengers as they head to the boarding gates.
And if you wanted to eat or just walk around, you could do so in this elongated terminal concept. Priority outlets get to be closer to the check in area, like the airport hospital, airport inquiry center, toilets and also prayer rooms. 

All other general retail outlets follow after the priority ones, and you can find them at two main levels of the airport with one of the best selections of fast food and other eateries and cafes. 

Conclusion - Another vote goes to Don Mueang Airport for the overall shop layout plan in the airport. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out, unless you just want to fill an airport with shops located anywhere you can find a slot.

The automated passport gate for Malaysians at KLIA2. 
Passport Control at the Airport 

KLIA2 - After you have checked in, you will walk to the domestic passport or identification check, and also for the first layer of the body and bag screening. The domestic check is located at one leftmost corner of the airport. 

The international passport section is smack center of the departure terminal, and is not hard to miss. It is here where you will first go through the first layer of the airport police check for your boarding pass and identification. Right after this, it is straight to the immigration counter for your passport check.

Passport Autogate Rosak KLIA2
The kind of sign you do not want to see when you are coming home to Malaysia.
For local Malaysian, there are passport gates, which are meant to make passengers go through much faster and smoother. But often at times, they passport gates may not be all fully functioning, which can create really long lines.

Plus it does not help when there are no staff there to assist confused passengers. Many times that I have gone through these gates, there was no immigration staff stationed there. This led to many passengers frustrations on trying to utilize the passport gates. 

Non-Malaysians still need to line up at the manned counters, and usually, it this works well. But on many occasions, I noticed a lack of immigration officers manning the counters, which result is really long lines. Honestly, do I need to elaborate more on this matter?

Immigration Lane at Don Mueang Airport
Asean lane at the immigration counters. Photo by www.chiangraitimes.com
Don Mueang Airport - There are two entry points to the immigration checks for passengers, and I have to say AoT again, thought ahead for this. One point is for foreign travellers, and another entry point is for local Thai and Asean country citizens. 

This way, you break up the different travellers, making it an easier flow for the passengers lining up to get their passport checked. At the Asean counters, there are at least two immigration officers serving at any one time.

Towards the far right of the immigration, they have the Thai passport autogate. Other country travellers will just line up at the 'Foreign Passport' counters. 

Here is what I found interesting. There are always AoT and immigration staff at the beginning of the lines, where they ask you where are you from, in order to smoothen out the process. And yes, they speak good English too. 

This way, you know which lane you are supposed to be lining up at, and it will not confuse the lines at the passport checks.

Another plus point is that they have a dedicated lane just for PRC travellers, where the officer manning those counters are Mandarin speaking staff.

This all makes perfect sense as it divides the majority of China travellers and the general other country travellers. I simply call this thinking ahead, and not making matters worst. 

Conclusion - As for a smooth immigration or passport flow, Don Mueang Airport again gets the vote for efficiency, courtesy, and most of all, friendly staff assisting passengers in this part of the airport.

A security check towards Gate Q at KLIA2, this is after the first check. 
Security Scanning Checks at the Airport 

KLIA2 - Recently, the security scanning points at our local airports have gone from bad to worst, and not only KLIA2, but even at KLIA. Why I'm saying this is that there is no longer any professionalism involved among the airport police who man the stations.

Often, they are seen chatting away, laughing and treating it like a casual fast food job. There have been times I notice how they treat passengers in a harsh manner, especially when the passengers do not know about the security check procedures.

There are also times, I see some of them on their smartphones. Wow, how did this behaviour become part of their jobs. Often, I find that they have a very 'sempoi' or laid back attitude, versus ten years ago when there was a little more professionalism involved. 

Don Mueang Airport - The number of times I have been in and out of Bangkok, I never once saw the airport security personal or police joking or laughing among themselves, as they treat their job with respect and professionalism.

Yes, they do talk, but they keep it to a minimal, and are constantly paying attention to the passengers that are undergoing the security checks. I think at most airports around the world, certain positions require strict professionalism, rather than a casual fun job. 

Conclusion - Another vote to Don Mueang Airport for their staff's professional attitude. Honestly, I find the Malaysian security personal lacking integrity and professionalism, which looks really bad for our country. I hope that something gets done about this fast. 

KLIA2 Eraman Duty Free
Often at times, passengers are seen rushing through the duty free to get to their gates on time. 
Duty Free Area at the Airport

KLIA2 -  For many years, I have personally seen how our duty free products have been getting bad to worst. Correct me if I am wrong, but most passengers don't even stop at the duty free areas anymore, and maybe just to get cigarettes or liquor, and that is all.

Have you wondered why? Simple, the duty free selection that we carry are pretty limited. Meaning, the choices are not on par with other international airports.

For example, chocolates are one of the things that I personally avoid. Why? Because most of the chocolates have a short expiry life, and are usually sold with promotions like buy two, get one free.

The duty free at KLIA2 is conveniently located as passengers have to walk through to get their luggage, and this is at the international arrival hall. But due to the poor selection, passengers rather buy duty free from the departing country than buying it from KLIA2.

Duty Free Shops Don Mueang Airport
Well laid out duty free section in the international departure area.
Don Mueang Airport - Their duty free section is conveniently located just after your screening check, and the area is huge and well lit, and inviting. Probably due to the market research on what travellers want, or what is in trend.

Promoters are seen all over, and ready to attend to customers, while products are world class, with great selections, from perfumes, to liquor, to local snacks, chocolates and cigarettes. This is exactly what travellers want to see when they travel.

Duty Free Area Don Mueang Airport
The lively duty free section of Don Mueang Airport.
Even if I am not buying anything from duty free, I will still make a detour to see what is new or what is available. Often at times, I somehow managed to buy something due to the price and wow factor. Overall, the duty free area layout is great for high traffic, as it is spacious and with many things to see. 

Conclusion - And another vote goes to Don Mueang Airport, mainly for the wide selection, brightly lit duty free area and a lively place with attentive staff.

Boarding Gates at KLIA2
At KLIA2, if your gate is J22, then good luck walking there.
Boarding Gates at the Airport

KLIA2 - This has been a joke ever since the airport opened up, and why have gates laid out in a one kilometer long row, when only AirAsia seems to be utilizing most of the gates.

Honestly, have you ever been given Gate J22? That is like the end of the airport, and they expect passengers to walk over 700 or 800 meters.

KLIA2 Departure Gate Layout Map
Gate J layout map at KLIA2. Just look at the number of gates in one area. 
As for design, yes, it looks nice on paper, but for functionality sake, it does not help at all, namely if the passengers are elderly. Moreover, you really need to find which wing your gate is located, and then find your way there.

The airport authorities may claim that they have a buggy service for elderly and disabled, but if you have been travelling as long as me, you will know that at times, there are no buggies available. Or you will have to wait over 20 minutes for one.

Don Mueang Airport - Their gating system is well planned and extremely functional for passengers, meaning that after you exit the passport control, you are in the main boarding walk area. All you need to do is find your gate which is either left of right.

Departure Gate Layout Map Don Mueang Airport
An aerial view of the main departure gate system at Don Mueang Airport
At most times, when I exit the passport control and security checks, I am in the main departure area, and I just need to walk about a hundred or two hundred meters to my main gate. And once I go into that area, the gates are broken up into six or eight boarding gates.

Not only that, each of the main gates have their own convenient shops or cafes, selling coffee, soft drinks, snacks and quick bites. This is what passengers want, and the best part, at affordable prices. 

Conclusion - In terms of easy access and convenience, Don Mueang gets the vote, and one does not really need to get lost in their system. Just look for your gate number, which is straightforward.

This is just one of the many photos I took at KLIA2. 
Cleanliness at the Airport

KLIA2 - Airport cleanliness has always been one of my top criteria whenever I visit any airport, especially if it is a modern style airport, and for KLIA2, I have to say when it first opened, it was very clean.

However, over the years that I have been using the airport, I noticed that a lot of areas are neglected, and this simply shows what the airport management is doing. It is an eyesore and imagine first time visitors to Malaysia seeing the dirt and stains.

Well, not only KLIA2, but even KLIA, the national airport is also similar. I mean, yes the floors are clean, but it is the walls, glass and other areas that seem to be overlooked. Is it because the airport management has cut back on the cleaners?

Just take a look at the photo above, and it was taken along the walkway from the international arrival towards the main terminal building. Areas like these are visible by passing passengers, and it is such a shame to see that no one did anything about it.

The best part is that I hardly see cleaners around, and if there are, they are usually the foreign contract cleaners. I have a feeling that the contract budget was cut, hence the company only provides a limited number of cleaners.

An example to maintain the cleanliness of an airport on a daily basis, you require a workforce of 50 staff to do so, but with certain budget cuts or just trying to save some money, there are probably only 20 workers doing the work of 50 people.

Baggage Claim Don Mueang Airport
This was after I reached the baggage area of Don Mueang. It looks spotless. 
Don Mueang - Because Don Mueang is an old airport, the original terminal building looks old, but somehow they manage to keep it clean. But when you compare the new terminal two, it is such a modern look and feel, with bright white lights and extremely clean.

Every now and then, I see cleaners pushing their cleaning carts, and often working solo and doing their work as supposed too. I tried to find fault by looking around for any areas that were dirty along  the main path that passengers use, but I was surprised that I could not find any.

Conclusion - Vote to Don Mueang Airport again, and this is probably due to the airport management strict procedures of keeping an airport clean. Staff are all local, and not seen chatting or lazing, and some might conclude that there is an oversupply of local workers there.

KLIA2 Smoking Area Room
The outdoor smoking areas on both wings of KLIA2, with a great view.
Smoking Room and Areas at the Airport

KLIA2 - This section had to be included because I am a smoker, and there are also many smoking travellers all over the world. But for KLIA2, I am quite sad that the airport management does not view this as a passenger service or facility inside the main terminal.

Outside the airport, the smoking area is found at both wings of the main terminal building, which is located outside. The area is huge, and open aired, which is also great for the view, and if it rains, you cannot utilise this area.

Yes, there are only two smoking rooms located inside the airport, one at the local domestic departure hall, and one more at the international departure hall. However, good luck if you want to locate it, as it is hidden away from general view, and with little or no signs.

Smoking room at KLIA2
The international departures smoking room at KLIA2 in horrible condition.
Not only that, they do not have adequate signs to show where the smoking rooms are located at, and you will end up having to ask someone. When you find them, just take a look at the condition of the smoking rooms. Dirty, unhygienic, and there is not even a monitor for the flight details.

For some reason, the airports in Malaysia are the worst in terms of smoking rooms. Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand all have proper smoking rooms that are clean, and with good ventilation systems. Why are we so different? If you do not want to encourage passengers to smoke, then do not sell cigarettes in the airports.

The smoking rooms are conveniently places at each main gate area in Don Mueang
Don Mueang - The smoking rooms outside Don Mueang are clearly indicated, and one look, you will see signs pointing to where you can smoke outside the airport. They have allocated a number of area for this, and have even provided chairs to sit down.

Inside the airport, there are smoking rooms at each gate, making it convenient for smokers to just pop in and have a cigarette before the flight. Yes, every main gate area has one smoking room. And the best part, the airport cleaners are constantly in and out, making sure the place is clean.

Conclusion - KLIA2 does not deserve any credit to this part as for years, they have neglected the smoking rooms inside the airport, and are one of the worst in the region.

They have it there for the sake of having it, but do not upkeep the rooms. So, Don Mueang gets the vote because they do care for all passengers, smokers or non-smokers.

Photo of Don Mueang International Airport
Outside the Don Mueang International Airport
Overall Conclusion 

After writing all of the above, I have to say that Don Mueang International Airport is the clear winner in all of the categories discussed. And as a Malaysian writing this, I kind of feel a little ashamed about this.

First and foremost, we are one of the emerging countries in Southeast Asia for aviation and air travel, with award winning airports and airlines, but when you look beyond those, you tend to see how we are lacking in many areas.

Yes, there is so much room for improvement, but with our laid back mentality of 'if it is not broken, don't fix it', we will fall further back, and other up and coming countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos will overtake us.

Aerobridge at KLIA2
KLIA2 only look good in terms of architecture, but for functionality, it lacks in many ways. 
Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport has clearly showed how efficient and traveller friendly they are, wherelse, our KLIA2 is nothing more than just a fancy lifestyle airport that is truly not passenger friendly at all.

We tend to always have a vision, but never will manage to fulfill it, and at many times, things are done half hearted, or just plain mismanagement of everything.

When an issue arises, we are quick to point fingers at others, which is one of our worst traits in any business. Maybe if things cannot change, the local airports should be managed and operated by a private entity? If we never try, we will never know.

I only hope that our KLIA2 airport management bucks up, and be on par with the other airports in the region, or we will never move forward, especially with our backward or laid back thinking.

Over the years, I have also done a number of airport reviews, and they include STOL airports to international airports, and from Malaysia, Indonesia and even Japan.

If you would like to comment about my Don Mueang Airport and KLIA2 review, please leave it below in the comment form. Again, this is a very personal review after years of being an air commuter, utilizing these two airports. 
Don Mueang Airport vs KLIA2 Review Don Mueang Airport vs KLIA2 Review Reviewed by David Jr on Friday, January 25, 2019 Rating: 5

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