Air travel in China is one of many ways to get around, and a great choice if you want to see a lot of the country within a time limit. Experience amazing bird’s eye views of China’s major cities, while saving time on traveling – it’s a win-win!
With two major Chinese airlines featured in the SKYTRAX top 10 airlines of the world, you know you’ll be in good hands when choosing air travel in China. Both Cathay Pacific and Hainan Airlines made it to this prestigious list in 2018, which is a true testament to the quality of their service and safety.
Important information about China air travel
Although most travelers enjoy the fast-paced experience of air travel in China, for some the excessive crowds and cultural differences may be overwhelming.
Want to know how to streamline your way around China’s many airports, airlines? Here are 10 things you should know about air travel in China.
1. These are the best Chinese airlines to travel with
Besides Cathay Pacific and Hainan Airlines, there are other major Chinese airlines well worth traveling with, such as Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern. All these major Chinese airlines offer quality onboard experiences, including friendly English speaking staff, various food and drink options, in-flight entertainment and frequent flyer programs.
In 2018, Hainan Airlines, China Southern, and China Eastern ruled the top 10 of best airlines in China.
2. Off-season air travel in China saves you money
We’re probably stating the obvious here, but traveling off-season can save you a lot of money in China. It even pays to look for last-minute flights during the off-season, as airlines sometimes offer discounts because of low sales volume or high cancellation rates.
When you’re on a budget, you may want to avoid traveling around China’s national holidays, such as Spring Holiday and Golden Week, as ticket prices go through the roof. However, if you insist on traveling around China in peak season, make sure you book your flights as early as possible to avoid paying a premium.
Choosing a connecting flight can also be a lot cheaper than direct flights in China. Want to make the most of a layover? Book one of our carefully selected visa free layover tours and catch a glimpse of some of China’s major cities on the go.
3. Excessive crowds on Chinese airports and how to avoid them
With literally millions of transient inhabitants, you can probably imagine how busy major Chinese airports can get. They literally team with people – all day and night. You may find your expectations around queuing challenged too. Typically, the Chinese do not tend to not form any lines, which makes Chinese airports a chaotic and very stressful place for foreign travelers.
So here’s a big tip that will keep you happy and sane in any Chinese airport lounge: arrive early and give yourself plenty of time to get to the gate. Avoiding national holidays is also a good way to avoid the crowds and losing your cool.
4. Know the restrictions for air travel in China
Air travel in China is a well-regulated process, and it’s important to understand what the baggage and security restrictions are before arriving at the airport. If you don’t, you may find yourself disappointed and having to explain yourself to the authorities.
Generally, when flying domestically, you’re entitled to one free checked bag, and one piece of carry-on luggage. However, the maximum baggage allowance varies by airline and travel class.
Unsure if the size or weight of your luggage will be approved? Check with your airline which unique baggage allowances are in place.
Before boarding an aircraft in China, passengers are subject to multiple security inspections. Both checked baggage and carry-on baggage will go through a thorough check to make sure you don’t bring any prohibited items on board. You will even be checked before you enter the airport itself. Any flammable, explosive, corrosive, poisonous, radioactive, polymerizable, and magnetized materials, firearms, and sharp or lethal weapons are strictly prohibited to take on board
You can find more information on the unique restrictions for air travel for each individual Chinese airline on their websites.
5. Be aware of the cultural differences
Especially as a first-time traveler to China, expect things to be a little different. Keep in mind that, even at major Chinese airports, you may not encounter many English speaking staff members, particularly at the shops in the terminal.
Even if they do speak English, you may not always receive the most helpful answers – everything is always going to be okay, even when it’s not. Understand it’s not bad will but it has something to do with the concept of face in Chinese culture.
The main advice is to be tolerant and patient when talking to airline staff. Being positive goes a long way!
6. Delays are standard in China
China’s airports may be some of the world’s most modern and elegant, however, there is one area where they are world leaders – and that’s flight delays! The frequent China flyer knows instinctively to add 30 to 60 minutes to the duration of the flight. In fact, you can expect your flight to be delayed by hours. When traveling in China, you find the perfect opportunity to develop a Zen-like acceptance of running late, because, frankly, flights in China seldom leave or arrive on schedule.
One of the reasons for China’s poor record of flight delays, is China’s airports are struggling to accommodate the continuously growing number of passengers. Another reason is poor weather. Airlines in China are much more likely to delay or even cancel flights due to a rainstorm.
Air travel in China is all about flexibility and keeping an open mind. If you end up getting stuck on a Chinese airport because of a delay, go on a visa free day tour and make the best of a (perhaps not so) unfortunate event.
7. Onboard meals as a cultural experience
Even though airplane food is never that good, some Chinese airlines offer reasonable meals on board. We won’t go as far as suggesting those in-flight meals are gourmet Chinese cuisine, however, they do reflect local culture.
On request, most Chinese airlines also offer Western, vegetarian, vegan, halal, and kosher meals. Just be sure to order your meals in advance to avoid disappointment.
8. Stay connected in China
Your beloved Facebook, Google, or WhatsApp are not accessible in China but if you really insist on letting your loved ones know your whereabouts, consider using WeChat. Now well and truly part of life in China, you can connect with family back home with a WeChat account. And you can pay for just about anything using WeChat too.
9. Short on time? Explore these visa free cities in China
Got a long layover in one of China’s 18 visa free cities? Why not make the most of your trip and explore the city on one of our meticulously planned visa free tours.
Our visa free tours take you on a short one to six day tour cities like in Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, or any other visa free city in China. A great way to check out the highlights of Shanghai or catch a glimpse of Guangzhou.
10. Let ChinaTours.com make your life easier
Still feeling a little overwhelmed about air travel in China? Our China tour experts are here to make your life easier. We offer a wide range of China tour packages, flights included so you don’t have to go through the booking-overwhelm.
The best way to discover the most beautiful places in China is to talk with people who can provide a real experience of this diverse and fascinating country. ChinaTours.com can help plan, organize, and deliver every detail of your China tour, including flights, accommodation, where to go, what to see, foods to savor, and experiences to remember. Whether you love big cities, history, culture, or want to get off the beaten track, we’ll make it happen. Travel with us and see the real China. Enquire now.