The two basic options for traveling to a major metro airport with lots of luggage are bad and worse. You can go by car, which comes with the stress of beating traffic against a ticking clock and the heavy cost of parking fees, cab fares, or inconveniencing friends. Or, in some places, you can travel by transit or train, which comes with the uncomfortable and often physically demanding task of maneuvering bags through turnstiles, up and down stairs, and in between crowds of fellow riders.
Hong Kong would like you to know there's a better way. A much, much better way.
It's called "in-town check-in," and it's part of Hong Kong's wonderful (and financially genius) MTR subway system. MTR has a special line dedicated to airport travel called the Airport Express (below, in teal). As you'd expect with a name like in-town check-in, Airport Express travelers can check their luggage in town then proceed to the airport bag-free, or spend the day in the city, or do whatever travelers who aren't carrying bags like to do.
The service is even better than that brief description suggests. Say, for instance, you have a 4 p.m. flight and have to leave your hotel by noon. That's a very common problem that typically requires keeping a bag at the hotel all day and coming back to get it before heading to the airport. Not the ideal scenario.
With in-town check-in, you could take a 10 a.m. shuttle to one of the two Airport Express stations with check-in service (Hong Kong or Kowloon), drop off your bags and get your boarding pass (the service is essentially a satellite version of a typical airline counter), then spend the next several hours touring the city or taking a meeting. Some airlines allow in-town check-in up to a full day in advance, so there's no intricate time-management required. There are even bag porters at the Hong Kong and Kowloon stations.
Here's the best part: The next time you see your bag is when you land. It's not like you pick up the bag at Hong Kong airport and do the whole thing again—the bag checks all the way through to your final destination. When you do finally arrive at the Hong Kong airport, you just go straight to security.
One of the many beauties of this system is that travelers who drop off their bags at Hong Kong or Kowloon stations find themselves right on the MTR. That makes it easy to hop around town without losing a half day to airport travel (in the case of Hong Kong Station, you're right in the central business district anyway).
The one catch, if you insist on finding one, is that you need an Airport Express ticket to use the check-in service. But you'll probably want one of those anyway: the ticket costs about $100 Hong Kong ($13 U.S.), while taking a cab to the airport can cost several times as much. Oh, and the Airport Express train has WiFi.
So this is pretty brilliant. And it's not just good for travelers—it's great for the city, too, keeping cars off the road and generating revenue for the transit system. There's really only one thing left to discuss: When can we expect a similar service in the United States?