What it's like to travel through Beijing's futuristic new airport, which is shaped like a starfish and is the biggest single terminal in the world

beijing daxing airport checkin hallAndrea Verdelli/Business Insider

  • China opened its new international airport to great fanfare in late September.
  • Beijing Daxing International is the largest single-terminal airport in the world. The project cost $63 billion and took four years to build.
  • I traveled through the airport and experienced the futuristic architecture and state-of-the-art facilities first-hand earlier this month.
  • Scroll down to see my journey.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

BEIJING, China - China officially opened its shiny new airport to commercial flights on September 25, 2019, with President Xi Jinping personally conducting the inauguration.

Beijing Daxing International Airport, which was designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid, is the largest single terminal in the world. The entire project cost $63 billion and took four years to complete.

I took a flight from Beijing to Shanghai out of Daxing earlier this month - despite its name, it also serves domestic flights - and had the chance to experience the futuristic architecture and play around with state-of-the-art facilities first-hand.

Scroll down to see what my trip was like.

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My journey started at Caoqiao station in central Beijing, where I took the newly-built Daxing Line straight to the airport. President Xi Jinping also took this train when he inaugurated the airport in September.

My journey started at Caoqiao station in central Beijing, where I took the newly-built Daxing Line straight to the airport. President Xi Jinping also took this train when he inaugurated the airport in September.

The Daxing Line also provided free WiFi, which doesn't exist on other Beijing metro lines.

Source: CGTN

Like almost everywhere else in Beijing, there were security cameras and propaganda billboards all over Caoqiao station. There were a lot of posters celebrating China's National Day and 70 years of Communist Party rule, which took place a few days before the trip.

Like almost everywhere else in Beijing, there were security cameras and propaganda billboards all over Caoqiao station. There were a lot of posters celebrating China's National Day and 70 years of Communist Party rule, which took place a few days before the trip.

This billboard reads: "Enthusiastically celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China."

Read more: 7 intimidating images from China's 70th anniversary show just how powerful its military has become

I paid 35 yuan ($4.96) for the train, which travels 40 km (25 miles) in 19 minutes. You can buy tickets on the automatic machine with cash or through WeChat or Alipay by scanning a QR code.

I paid 35 yuan ($4.96) for the train, which travels 40 km (25 miles) in 19 minutes. You can buy tickets on the automatic machine with cash or through WeChat or Alipay by scanning a QR code.

Read more: One photo shows that China is already in a cashless future

The train was almost empty, likely because the airport was still brand new at this point.

The train was almost empty, likely because the airport was still brand new at this point.

There was a security officer standing in each train cabin, as well as security cameras on the ceiling. TV screens also showed videos of the Daxing airport express being built, alongside the logo of the 70th anniversary of the PRC's founding.

There was a security officer standing in each train cabin, as well as security cameras on the ceiling. TV screens also showed videos of the Daxing airport express being built, alongside the logo of the 70th anniversary of the PRC's founding.

The train reaches a maximum speed of 149 km/h (92.6 mph) — relatively slow compared to the Maglev train that connects Shanghai's Pudong Airport to the city at a dazzling speed of 430 km/h (267 mph).

The train reaches a maximum speed of 149 km/h (92.6 mph) — relatively slow compared to the Maglev train that connects Shanghai's Pudong Airport to the city at a dazzling speed of 430 km/h (267 mph).

Source: Shanghai Airport Transfer

We've arrived! The final stop of the Daxing line — the airport — is white and clean. And a lot of people on the train started taking photos as soon as they got off.

We've arrived! The final stop of the Daxing line — the airport — is white and clean. And a lot of people on the train started taking photos as soon as they got off.

Upon arrival to the airport's B1 floor, I immediately spotted a security gate equipped with facial-recognition technology. It's not entirely clear what this was for. I was surprised that no security personnel stopped me from taking photos of it.

Upon arrival to the airport's B1 floor, I immediately spotted a security gate equipped with facial-recognition technology. It's not entirely clear what this was for. I was surprised that no security personnel stopped me from taking photos of it.

Inside the airport terminal, I saw multiple automated kiosks providing information about flight times and the airport's services — albeit in Mandarin Chinese only. There was a slot to scan Chinese IDs and passports, but it didn't work when I tried to scan my foreign passport.

Inside the airport terminal, I saw multiple automated kiosks providing information about flight times and the airport's services — albeit in Mandarin Chinese only. There was a slot to scan Chinese IDs and passports, but it didn't work when I tried to scan my foreign passport.

The computer's operating system shut down and restarted when I scanned my passport.

On the same floor I spotted a peculiar piece of artwork, made entirely of paper origami swans: a Chinese phrase that says "The motherland is strong, and the nation is rejuvenated." The last two characters say "Da" and "Xing" — the name of the airport.

On the same floor I spotted a peculiar piece of artwork, made entirely of paper origami swans: a Chinese phrase that says "The motherland is strong, and the nation is rejuvenated." The last two characters say "Da" and "Xing" — the name of the airport.

Here's what it looked like up close.

Here's what it looked like up close.

I then took the elevator to check out the rest of the airport. It was equipped with a touchscreen panel that lists out each floor's amenities.

I then took the elevator to check out the rest of the airport. It was equipped with a touchscreen panel that lists out each floor's amenities.

My first stop was the parking lot, which has plants dotted around the floor. I was surprised by how nice it was — as were the other travelers in this photo.

My first stop was the parking lot, which has plants dotted around the floor. I was surprised by how nice it was — as were the other travelers in this photo.

Some time in the near future the parking lot will be equipped with robots to help drivers park and pick up their cars, with the goal of reducing average parking times, the South China Monring Post reported.

These robots will be used alongside JD.com's Smart Parking System, an app that shows a real-time map of available park slots.

However, I didn't see any of these robots during my trip. Perhaps the airport hasn't used them yet.

Time for check-in. I was stunned by the beauty of the departures hall — massive openings in the ceiling let natural sunlight flow in — reducing the need for artificial lighting — but blocked out heat.

Time for check-in. I was stunned by the beauty of the departures hall — massive openings in the ceiling let natural sunlight flow in — reducing the need for artificial lighting — but blocked out heat.

The airport also tries to be environmentally friendly: according to China's state-run Science and Technology Daily, its air conditioning system runs on geothermal heat.

The shadows also made some lovely patterns on the wall and floor. It felt like everyone in the airport stopped to take photos here.

The airport has more than 400 self-service check-in kiosks, which authorities hope will make the process more efficient. However, an attendant asked me to check in at the desk instead, saying it would be faster for foreign passports.

The airport has more than 400 self-service check-in kiosks, which authorities hope will make the process more efficient. However, an attendant asked me to check in at the desk instead, saying it would be faster for foreign passports.

Source: South China Morning Post

I played around with the automated check-in kiosk anyway, and had my face scanned. The option on the right says "facial recognition" in Chinese.

I played around with the automated check-in kiosk anyway, and had my face scanned. The option on the right says "facial recognition" in Chinese.

However, my passport still didn't work.

This is meant to speed up security checks later on — instead of showing your passport and boarding card, the automated gates will recognize your face and let you through within three seconds.

This is meant to speed up security checks later on — instead of showing your passport and boarding card, the automated gates will recognize your face and let you through within three seconds.

Source: Global Times

Every check-in kiosk was decorated with the Chinese national flag.

Every check-in kiosk was decorated with the Chinese national flag.

It's not entirely clear if they were only there for the PRC's 70th anniversary or a permanent fixture.

I then headed up to the fifth and highest floor, which serves as a platform for travelers to survey the entire airport.

I then headed up to the fifth and highest floor, which serves as a platform for travelers to survey the entire airport.

I decided to explore some of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Many of them are famous fast food chains and cafes — I saw at least three Starbucks stores, two Costa Coffees, as well as their Chinese rival Luckin Coffee.

I decided to explore some of the restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Many of them are famous fast food chains and cafes — I saw at least three Starbucks stores, two Costa Coffees, as well as their Chinese rival Luckin Coffee.

I chose to go for "The Dining Room," which looked the most crowded from the outside. It had an open kitchen where cooks were hard at work.

I chose to go for "The Dining Room," which looked the most crowded from the outside. It had an open kitchen where cooks were hard at work.

The shelves were adorned with fake cardboard books.

The shelves were adorned with fake cardboard books.

I ordered the country's famous xiaolongbao, a small dumpling filled with meat and soup. I went for these traditional pork ones ...

I ordered the country's famous xiaolongbao, a small dumpling filled with meat and soup. I went for these traditional pork ones ...

... as well as these black truffle ones, which I have never seen in my four years of living in China. The two dishes cost 72 yuan ($10.20) in total.

... as well as these black truffle ones, which I have never seen in my four years of living in China. The two dishes cost 72 yuan ($10.20) in total.

After my meal, I decided to walk around a bit more. There were a lot of patriotic signs on show.

After my meal, I decided to walk around a bit more. There were a lot of patriotic signs on show.

This sculpture was particularly popular among travelers. The Chinese characters in the middle say "Beijing, central axis."

This sculpture was particularly popular among travelers. The Chinese characters in the middle say "Beijing, central axis."

The copper plates at the bottom shows the distance between Daxing and famous historical buildings in Beijing.

Free water dispensers were pretty much everywhere. It gave two options: warm water and boiling water. Chinese medicine suggests that cold is harmful for the body, so you won't be seeing any icy cold water here.

Free water dispensers were pretty much everywhere. It gave two options: warm water and boiling water. Chinese medicine suggests that cold is harmful for the body, so you won't be seeing any icy cold water here.

By this point, it was time to make my way to my gate. I took my carry-on luggage through the security screening, which had special trays equipped with RFID chips. There was also a row of cameras along the conveyor belt to photograph passengers with their luggage.

By this point, it was time to make my way to my gate. I took my carry-on luggage through the security screening, which had special trays equipped with RFID chips. There was also a row of cameras along the conveyor belt to photograph passengers with their luggage.

According to the state-run CGTN news channel, the airport will introduce a millimeter wave scanner that will scan passengers without touching them, while increasing the accuracy of the scan.

After the security check I entered the domestic departures hall — the center of the airport's giant "starfish" design.

After the security check I entered the domestic departures hall — the center of the airport's giant "starfish" design.

Here's what it looks like from the outside. The entrance to the departures hall is in the center, and the gates are at the tip of the six starfish "arms."

Here's what it looks like from the outside. The entrance to the departures hall is in the center, and the gates are at the tip of the six starfish "arms."

Because of that, every single gate is reachable within an eight-minute walk.

The departures hall boasts giant windows, through which sunlight seeps and you can watch planes arriving and departing.

The departures hall boasts giant windows, through which sunlight seeps and you can watch planes arriving and departing.

However, many parts of the hall were still closed to the public because the airport had only been open for a week during my visit.

However, many parts of the hall were still closed to the public because the airport had only been open for a week during my visit.

Some shops were still open, though. I saw multiple luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, ETRO, Gucci, Moncler ... and a huge Huawei store.

Some shops were still open, though. I saw multiple luxury brands, including Louis Vuitton, ETRO, Gucci, Moncler ... and a huge Huawei store.

After a bit more exploring, I realized I had to go to my gate — perhaps I was too busy taking photos to hear the boarding announcement! I left the airport in awe of its impressive design and heartened by how proud the Chinese seemed to be of it.

After a bit more exploring, I realized I had to go to my gate — perhaps I was too busy taking photos to hear the boarding announcement! I left the airport in awe of its impressive design and heartened by how proud the Chinese seemed to be of it.
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