When T3 came alive before the 2008 Olympics, going to Beijing International Airport was a breeze. Hop onto the Airport Expressway, zip through sparsely occupied lanes, and you arrive at the majestic Terminal 3 in about 30 minutes. The most stressful factor is the way your taxi driver practices his race-car driving skills. Gone are those happy days. This 12-mile highway now routinely takes more than an hour to slug through.
Is the light-rail a better way? There will be no traffic and it connects to the subway system very well.
After bidding adieu to a friend who lived not too far away from the airport, I decided to experiment. (This is what a nerdy business traveler does on weekends.)
Instead of the usual taxi back to the hotel, I went to the airport. The plan is to take the light-rail, board Line 2 at DongZhiMen (東直門) station, transfer at the JianGuoMen (建國門) station to Line 1 after 3 stops, and get back to the hotel in another 3 stops. The cost would be 29RMB (about US$5).
I boarded the light-rail at 1:20pm on this lazy Sunday afternoon, pretty much the lightest hour that I can think of, and walked into the hotel room at 2:45pm: hot, thirsty, and tired. There were long walks to connect at both transferring stations. Even for a Sunday afternoon, Line 1 was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder style. I imagined myself dragging a carry-on luggage and a computer bag and was not pleased at that image.
The next day, I took the taxi to the airport: 45 minutes and 90RMB.