For many airports around the world, the lull in traffic in the last two years has provided an opportunity for renovation and renewal. While Kumamoto also took this opportunity, its renovation would not be complete until March 2023. This means that travelers coming to Japan since its reopening of Japan should consider the following tips to help them navigate their way, as a lot of this information is not on their website.
Kumamoto Airport's terminals are getting more than a makeover, it is almost like a complete rebuild, featuring Kumamoto design as well as new eateries such as Ajisen Ramen and Ashikita produce. As such, an interim terminal has been completed to allow the rebuild to take place, at the far end of the airport. The domestic terminal is an extra 10 mins walk, and then you should allow extra time to check in as there is a reduced number of check-in counters, given the interim terminal is operating from a temporary shed.
Even for passengers who have checked in and downloaded the boarding pass on the smartphone wallet, you still need to check in, as I experienced, despite purchasing a fare on the ANA domestic website. In other words, having an electronic boarding pass does not mean you can go "straight to the gate". Expect even more time for your boarding pass to be issued if purchasing an international tourist or explorer fare which normally needs the presentation of your passport.
Takubin Luggage Courier Service
The Covid disruptions since 2020 have meant that many airports are short-staffed or have new and less experienced staff. For example, the information counter didn’t know where Takubin is, so do take this into account by factoring more time if you need to courier your luggage to another destination. If you are sending your luggage to Narita, it will take a minimum of 3 days to get there, despite the guide mentioning a minimum 2-day delivery time to international gateway airports. Nevertheless, Kumamoto's hospitality is not hard to find, as I experienced when a Fuji Dream Airline staff walked me 200 meters to the Takubin counter even though she had finished her work for the day.
Takubin is located near the rental car counter, not next to the airline departures check-in counter prior to the renovation. Please also note the operating hours may be limited, for example, it closed at 1830 on a Friday when I was there. As there is limited space in the interim terminal, there is only one courier service operating and the staff doesn’t speak English so prepare for some sign language, like explaining the contents of your luggage, like you would when sending a parcel a the post office. Lastly, if you are on a codeshare flight please quote the operating airline flight number to the courier it is more helpful for forwarding it to your final destination. Have that ready before you arrive at the airport as the free wifi may be very slow. On the other hand, the courier service is safe, reliable, and effective, something you find out when it only took me 2 minutes to retrieve my luggage at Narita Airport.
Limited facilities post-security
The smaller footprint of the interim terminal also means less space once you clear the X-ray security and head toward the boarding gates. For example:
- Airport Lounge - the two lounges (JAL and ANA) have been compressed into a smaller, combined lounge called the Aso Premium Lounge.
- Souvenir Shops - there are only two stores with a limited space next to the airport lounge, but they have done well with a good selection of local products, such as horse meat, pickled vegetables, cookies, and other foodstuffs.
- Dining options - Lunch and dinner options here are very limited. You can try a sandwich at Tully's coffee shop, where you can also plug your phone or laptop.
Despite the interim facilities resembling a shed, they have retained the aerobridges even though there are also some airside buses, presumably for low-cost carriers. There are only 4 boarding gates (Gates 101 to 105) which means it could be crowded at peak times, such as Friday evenings.
At the boarding gate
Most domestic flights from Kumamoto do not have individual entertainment (IFE) screens, though newer wide-body aircraft like the A350 do have them. These aircraft mainly operate on busier routes such as Tokyo to Osaka, Okinawa, or Sapporo. On the other hand, ANA and JAL usually offer in-flight Wi-FI, and it is easier if you download their app at the airport to facilitate your use of inflight Wi-FI.
Also, the ANA 737-800 I was on only had one toilet in economy class even though the flight attendant kindly let passengers use the business class toilet. It may be a good idea to use the toilet at the airport before your board, especially if you have young children.
For many flights, the above seat ventilation is set to shut, so turn it on if you would like the HEPA-filtered air to go directly to your face and minimize your chance of getting Covid, even if you are wearing a mask. Domestic flights are generally close to full at the moment, especially with a low yen Japanese are more likely to travel Domestically than internationally, especially with the government offering residents discount vouchers to encourage domestic travel.