As an island that moves quickly with developments, Singaporeans have a habit of leaning into places that can evoke pleasant memories. When news of its closure was announced, the longstanding McDonald’s at Changi Airport Terminal 2 received plenty of attention online, with many locals bemoaning the loss of a place that held dear memories for them. Until its final day of operations on 31 January 2020, the outlet continued to welcome fans, with many wanting to indulge in its familiar atmosphere before its last day.

Though marked for renovation, the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic left a question mark on its fate in the past three years. However, fans were thrilled to see an official “opening soon” hoarding come up near the same spot in April this year.

Finding yourself wondering what to eat at Changi Airport? With an announcement on its Facebook page, Changi Airport shared the official reopening of McDonald’s at Terminal 2 on 10 June 2023 to much excitement. We take a look at how this international fast-food chain became such an icon among locals and interesting elements of its new design concept.

McDonald’s is one of the oldest tenants at Changi Airport

It’s unsurprising that the closure of McDonald’s at Terminal 2 invoked that much nostalgia. To say that some people grew up visiting the outlet isn’t a stretch as it was in operation for 16 years before its closure in 2020. But if one were to look back at the franchise’s relationship with Changi Airport, it goes back even further still.

Back when Changi Airport started operations in 1981, it only had one runway and one terminal. But even then, a few businesses were eager to support the new project and welcome international visitors. McDonald’s was one of them.

Shortly after the airport’s opening, the fast-food giant established its fifth and newest outlet then to Terminal 1, and began serving its familiar, wallet-friendly meals like burger and fries to diners in 1982. Who else also can’t forget its awesome snacks like Apple Pie and McFlurry?  It joins other eateries such as Swensen’s, Church’s Fried Chicken (now known as Texas Fried Chicken) and Mayflower Airport Restaurant and was a rousing success.

With the burgeoning growth of Singapore as an aviation hub, another terminal was soon planned, built and started operations in 1990. McDonald’s then opened another outlet at Terminal 2, Changi Airport.

Over time, the McDonald’s at Terminal 2 became a popular spot for those visiting the airport - locals and travellers alike. Open round-the-clock, the outlet became a reliable spot to meet, hangout and grab a meal for travellers, visitors and airport staff. Even if you had a flight at the wee hours at 5:00am, you could always depend on the fast-food restaurant. This was what made McDonald’s restaurant such an enduring icon among so many other Changi Airport Terminal 2 shops that changed over the years.

It also played a huge role to another group of diners - students. Through the 80s and the 90s, students around the island would gather there to study. Given its casual and welcoming environment, the time spent mugging at Terminal 2’s McDonald’s (with a burger and fries) is one that most would remember with fondness.

The Terminal 2 outlet had a couple of elements which were very nostalgic

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Terminal 2's McDonald's stood apart from its other branches with its spacious ambiance and an innovative open-ceiling layout.

Unlike its other stores, Terminal 2’s McDonald’s featured an airy environment with an open ceiling design. This made the restaurant visible from a good distance and also allowed its iconic circular signage pillar to peek above the level above. The logo with its bright red and yellow arches stood out against the neutral tones of the airport, and served as a communal seating spot before it became a full-fledged McCafĂ© in its later years.

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Another notable feature of the restaurant was the Ronald McDonald bench inviting visitors to take a seat beside the beloved mascot for a memorable photo opportunity. Over time, the bench gave way to a standing Ronald McDonald, his hand raised in a welcoming gesture that simultaneously bid farewell to departing guests.

Another distinctive restaurant fixture was the Ronald McDonald bench. Placed at its entrance, anyone could take up a seat beside the official mascot for a photo opportunity. This popular spot was later replaced with a standing mascot, with a waving hand as if to both welcome guests and bid them farewell as they left. 

Leading to the last days of operations at Terminal 2, fans were sharing their personal stories online of having spent extended periods at the eatery. Many called it a part of their childhood and the “passing of an era”, and one even asked, “What am I supposed to eat before flying now?”

McDonald’s acknowledged the void and its fans with farewell decorations in its last week - balloons, a photo wall with a “see you again” sign, and a large boarding pass printed with the poignant words “final flight out”.

The Terminal 2 outlet now boasts a first-in-Singapore design

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The reimagined establishment, named CUBE, introduced a distinctive design concept that made its Southeast Asian debut in Singapore, following its successful appearances in Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu, China.

When the store reopened near its original location, visitors were greeted by a completely new look. The familiarity was in its recognisable imagery and casual vibe, with the injection of a new air of  elegance,  thanks to designer Steve Leung of Steve Leong Design Group.

Best known for his work on high-end mixed projects such as the Orchard Residences in Singapore, The Landmark in Guangzhou and OOAK Niseko in Hokkaido, industry pundits were surprised with this latest addition to his prolific portfolio.

The new outlook bears a name - CUBE - and the design is the first to debut in Southeast Asia with Singapore, after appearing in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu, China. Leong personally handled the project from its inception, and derived the concept from the profile of the McDonald’s Happy Meal box - a smart choice given its emotional appeal.

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The fast food restaurant outlet underwent a remarkable transformation, revealing a fresh and entirely revamped appearance.

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The square graphics in Terminal 2’s newly revamped McDonald’s feature sleek colourful imagery of recognisable ingredients.

Diners will notice this being translated into the store’s cubic elements, such as the wall mosaic assembly of squares gathering to form a burger, or the square graphic art featuring recognisable ingredients and colourful imagery from some of McDonald’s most famous menu items. But before you think it a purely straight-laced affair, the gentle curves of the golden arches do come through on the furniture to provide balance, and the overall effect is finished in warm tones to lend a cosy, welcoming vibe.

As you wander about the store, keep a lookout for a surprise element. The McDonald’s Happy Meal smile can be seen cleverly hidden in functional items such as the tubular wall lamps, and reminds us of the playful joy one experiences when receiving a Happy Meal.

Why the new McDonald’s at T2 is better than ever for travellers and students alike

While keeping the nostalgic elements of the old McDonald’s at Terminal 2 would be ideal, the new outlet decided to introduce contemporary experiences which customers can build new memories upon.

The new McDonald’s restaurant understood its role as a gathering spot, and has added more communal seating for more to enjoy. For those diners of a more transient nature who are just having a coffee or an ice-cream, there are cafe-style high table seating perfect for one to spend some quiet time at.

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One of the most striking updates is the introduction of an interactive wall situated in one corner of the restaurant, adding an element of delight and entertainment to the dining experience.

All seatings are cushioned now for a more comfortable experience. Long-stay workaholics with their briefcases and students with their school backpacks can even park themselves at specific stations with charging ports. The most dramatic update has to be the interactive wall at one corner of the restaurant. 

Much like the one at the ArtScience Museum, children (and adults) can colour on provided paper templates, set them to scan at a station and see their creations appear on the large screen. With all its bells and whistles, the new McDonald’s will likely remain a popular destination when visitors are deciding on what to eat at Changi Airport.

The returning restaurant fixture you might not know about

Past the design, the McDonald’s experience is also very much about its people. And if you’ve enjoyed your time previously at the old outlet, you have the teams and long-serving staff like Diana to thank.

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Diana, the current General Manager of McDonald's at Terminal 2, has dedicated nearly a decade of her career to working at Changi Airport.

Currently the General Manager at Terminal 2’s McDonald’s, Diana has been working here in Changi Airport for almost a decade. She began her career as Floor Manager in 2004 before rising through the ranks to become 1st Assistant Manager at the fast food restaurant in 2012. Having spent a significant part of her career at the Terminal 2 outlet, needless to say, she has plenty of memories to share.

She spoke of how relative to today’s format, the early years of the restaurant was “simple”, with only four counters.

“I also vividly remember kindergarten children visiting our restaurant as part of their school excursion during those early days,” she added. “It’s really fun to welcome the little ones – seeing their teachers guide our ‘young customers’, two-by-two holding hands coming in and enjoying our food as part of their school trip to learn more about the airport. Very cute!”

Diana also recalled the scenes of students having breakfast and studying till the early hours, and having to make verbal announcements requesting for them to vacate their seats for other diners when peak hours arrived - most of whom complied.

She has also seen how the desktop computers once provided for customers at the signage stand to check their emails, are now replaced by the smartphones of today. There also used to be a budget flights service counter just above the restaurant, making the restaurant a popular breakfast choice for early-hour crew and customers alike.

Having even seen celebrities like “football stars, regional and local singers”, Diana soon found that McDonald’s was seen as a key choice for that comfort food pre- and post-flight, regardless of who you are.

“Having worked at different McDonald’s restaurants, I’d say the airport environment has a different, unique vibe,” Diana enthused. “What’s unique is that we see people not just from different neighbourhoods, but literally from all over the world!” And she wouldn’t trade working there for the world.

Through the years, Diana and her team continue striving to offer a memorable experience for those coming to McDonald’s Terminal 2. “Since most of our customers are travellers who are in transit or here for a short holiday, I tell myself that it could be the one and only time I get to serve them, so I’ll always try my best to give them the best experience,” she explained.

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Experience the incredible transformation firsthand at the newly renovated McDonald's in Terminal 2 and don't hesitate to say hello to Diana if you happen to encounter her during your visit.

Come see the transformation for yourself at the new Terminal 2 McDonald’s, and perhaps drop Diana a hello if you see her during your visit. 

Thinking of what to eat at Changi Airport? Looking for a Mcdonald’s outlet near you in the East? Or wondering which terminals are McDonald’s outlets located in at Changi Airport? There’s also one within the Terminal 2 transit area, just next to the Straits Food Village food court on level three. But if you’re not flying out of the premier aviation hub Changi Airport, you can also find other McDonald’s outlets at level one of Terminal 3, and another in Jewel Changi Airport.

Location: 60 Airport Boulevard, S'pore Changi Airport Terminal 2
Mezzanine Level, Singapore 819643

Opening hours: Opens daily from 6:00am to 11:00pm


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