China: Airlines & Airports

Airline seats are narrower, less leg room, and stuffier than those in the west.  Be prepared, there is not much choice here.

Domestic air travel on major airlines is SAFE in China – due to sudden growth of the industry, the major airlines tend to use newer planes, and opt for A300’s or B747’s largely on most routes.  Airlines are reasonably good – but be warned on smaller city routes, delays and cancellations are the norm.

Remember your flight number, and listen careful to Chinese announcements referencing the number (in Chinese in smaller airports).

The “air corridor” between Shanghai and Beijing is heavily restricted with only 2 flight paths, that unfortunately intersect over a military training area near Qingdao – as a result, flights between the 2 cities are quite often delayed by 30 minutes to a couple of hours while they await clearance.

Planes will be held in China for Government officials.  So if flying around National Day (October) or National Peoples Congress time (Jan-Feb each year), expect more delays than normal – particularly with flights to or from Beijing.

Air China 1st Class “Window” Seat. haha

Pack light and warm (remember domestic airline luggage limits of total of 20kg), Many times you’ll be forced to carry your luggage up & down stairs — for instance in subway stations and train stations.  If possible, consider ultra-light 4 way roller suitcase.

Airport Information

Check in at airports for domestic travel is a minimum of 1 hour prior to departure, but given the uncertainty of flight times and language barriers, 2 hours prior is better usually.  Once you are checked in, you need to process through provincial immigration (Public Security) where the police will scan your passport invalidating your previous hotel’s temporary registration permit, and giving you clearance to travel to the next city.

Official airport sites in English:

Beijing Beijing Capital International Airport
Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Guangzhou  Baiyun International Airport
Xi’an Xianyang International Airport

Booking Travel

See my notes on WHEN the best time to book airlines tickets to get the best price.   After you have booked, particularly for long-haul flights, consider your seat selection.

When booking, for domestic travel within China, I suggest using cTrip or eLong, and if choice, I recommend my personal ranking based on quality/experience based on first/business class:

HU – Hainan Airlines
CZ – China Southern
CA – Air China
HO – Juneyao Airlines
FM – Shanghai Airlines
MU – China Eastern
MF – Xiamen Airlines

Airline Alliances

Airlines points today are traded like currency — they are valuable and each point adds up.  I strongly suggest that you become a member of each major airline Alliance, and if your particular airline company is not a member of the “big 3” than sign up for the individual airline loyalty program too — it’s all free, and the points add quickly…

Star Alliance

  • Adria Airways
  • Aegean Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • EVA Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • Scandinavian Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss International Air Lines
  • TAP Air Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines


  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Czech Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Air

One World

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Not a member of the “big 3” but given it’s 5 star ranking, and international routes, worth joining.

Hainan Airlines

While joining any or all is free, I suggest only joining one of each of the “big 3” major alliance member airlines.  Pick the airline you are most likely to fly regularly on.

May 18th, 2008|
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