Tourism Malaysia

How to negotiate Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport

How to negotiate Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport

One of the most famous airports in Southeast Asia is Kuala Lumpur International Airport “KLIA” and I always enjoy my flights to and from here as the airport always seems particularly well organised.

Fortunately, all the signs are in English and very clear. I have flown in and out more than a dozen times and only got slightly lost on my first visit, which, to be fair, was after a long flight.

When you arrive, the immigration queues can initially appear dauntingly long, but there’s efficiency in the way arriving passengers are handled.

The queues quickly divide into those holding local passports and those travelling internationally and if you need a visa your journey through passport control is actually quicker than at many other airports, as a computer system already has your details and a quick swipe of your passport generates a cheery, “Welcome to Malaysia!” Other international airports could learn from this.

KLIA is located about 50 kilometres south of Kuala Lumpur. Make no mistake, though, it’s a large airport! To give you an idea of its scale do note it’s 10 times larger than Narita airport, Tokyo and has some rather lovely and unique architecture – which I now know was inspired by both the symbolic Islamic tradition and the abstract, more modern, Malaysian architecture.

KLIA Ticket Counter. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

KLIA Ticket Counter. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

It is not only an important airport for its 35 million passengers each year, but it also handles 1.2 millions tons of cargo making it the 14th busiest airport in the world, the 4th largest in Asia by passenger traffic and the 29th by cargo traffic.

The airport, fortunately, never feels crowded because its sheer size provides enough room for everyone to feel as though they have enough personal space – I suspect even the seats in the coffee shops are further apart than in Western airports!


The main terminal was designed to allow as much natural light in as possible (why can’t other airports do that!) which gives a brighter feel with limited artificial lighting. The roof is worth a look up to as well, incidentally, as it features large “cut-outs” of glass, in order to allow natural light to filter in.

The main terminal has three large buildings: the Satellite building (international), the main terminal building and the contact pier (domestic and regional). Malaysia Airlines operates from both terminals while budget carriers like Tiger Airways, AirAsia and Cebu Pacific operate from LCCT.

There are plenty of shops (coffee is everywhere and costs around £3 / US$5) and there is everything from snacks through to full meals in the departure areas. There are also machines dispensing snacks and hot and cold drinks. Many people come from the nearby low cost carrier terminal (LCCT) to KLIA for food and other services if they have enough time between flights.


Level 2, night. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

Level 2, night. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.


You will find several shopping areas at KLIA. There are 242 retail shops and 88 food and beverage outlets and that number is expected to increase in the next twelve months. Do look out for any last minute shopping or gifts, as prices, whilst inevitably higher than in the cities are not as high as at many other airports, especially for locally made articles.


Level 2, day. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

Level 2, day. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.


Ground Transportation

KLIA’s main terminal is well connected with its satellites and terminals by a modern and complimentary Aerotrain (known as an automated people mover). It transports 3,000 passengers per hour at speeds up to 35 mph – not bad. The journey takes less than two minutes and three trains run every five minutes in each direction.

KLIA is well connected by train, bus and taxi, plus connecting services with LCCT. KLIA Transit or KLIA Express train services operate between the city and the airport. The trip takes 28 minutes while the buses (an hour) are more economical but also clean, comfortable and have plenty of luggage space. Those going to Klang Valley can choose a taxi or a limo from the Airport Limo service, just note that between midnight and 5 am a surcharge is applied.

Customers Reviews

KLIA passengers that left reviews on TripAdvisor declared themselves extremely happy and rated the facility with 5 stars. Here’s what they said:

“Fantastic bathroom facilities, large food areas, delicious food and very fast WIFI. Couldn’t have asked for more.”

“I had a very good experience staying at this airport. On top of all, I spent only $16 on bus, shuttle and food over a 12-hours period.”

I agree with them! Airports are often the most difficult part of a journey, but you get the feeling the Malaysians are trying to make their airport as comfortable and as easy to navigate as possible. It’s a great introduction to Malaysia.

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