Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong are China's three major international hubs. You can catch nonstop or one-stop flights to Beijing from New York (13¾ hours), Chicago (13–14 hours), San Francisco (11½–12½ hours), Los Angeles (11½–13 hours), London (10½–11½ hours), and Sydney (14–16 hours). Though most airlines say that reconfirming your return flight is unnecessary, some local airlines cancel your seat if you don't reconfirm.
Airline and Airport Links.com. Airline and Airport Links.com has links to the websites of many of the world's airlines and airports. www.airlineandairportlinks.com.
Airline Security Issues
Transportation Security Administration. The Transportation Security Administration website answers almost every question about U.S. airline security and travel regulations that you may have. www.tsa.gov.
If you are flying to China on a SkyTeam airline (Delta, for example), consider the Go Greater China Pass, which covers 148 destinations in China, including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. After you purchase your international ticket to mainland China or Taiwan on a SkyTeam member airline, you can take between 3 and 16 flights within China on China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, or Xiamen Airlines. If you are a member of a frequent-flier program, these flights will count toward miles. The price of the pass is between $270 and $1,300, depending upon the distance you plan to fly.
Beijing, Xiamen, and Hong Kong are three of the cities included in the OneWorld Alliance Visit Asia Pass. Cities are grouped into zones, and a flat rate is levied for each flight based on the zone in which the city is located. It doesn't include flights from the United States, however. Inquire through American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or any other OneWorld member. It won't be the cheapest way to get around, but you'll be flying on some of the world's best airlines.
Air Pass Info
Go Greater China Pass. 800/221–1212; www.skyteam.com/en/flights-and-destinations/travel-passes/go-china.
Visit Asia Pass. 800/233–2742; www.oneworld.com/flights/single-continent-fares/visit-asia.
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) is Northern China's main hub, 20 miles northeast of the Beijing city center. Plans are underway to have a new airport built in Beijing by October 2018 that will handle domestic flights. Shanghai has two airports: Pudong International Airport (PVG) is newer and flashier than Hongqiao International Airport (SHA), but Hongqiao is more efficient and closer to downtown. The main hub in southern China is the sleek and modern Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), also known as Chek Lap Kok.
There are also international airports at Guangzhou (CAN), Kunming (KMG), Xiamen (XMN), Shenzhen (SZX), Xi'an (XIY), Chengdu (CTU), and Guilin (KWL), among others.
Clearing customs and immigration in China can take a while, especially in the morning, so arrive at least two hours before your scheduled flight time.
While you're wandering through Chinese airports, someone may approach you offering to carry your luggage, or even just give you directions. Be aware that this "helpful" stranger will almost certainly expect payment. Many of the X-ray machines used for large luggage items aren't film-safe, so keep film in your carry-on if you're still using a nondigital camera.
Beijing Capital International Airport. 010/6454–1100; en.bcia.com.cn.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. 028/8520–5555; www.cdairport.com.
Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. 020/3606–6999; www.guangzhouairportonline.com.
Guilin Liangjiang International Airport. 0773/284–5114.
Hong Kong International Airport. 852/2261–2727; www.hongkongairport.com.
Kunming Changshui International Airport. 871/96566; www.kmgairport.com.
Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. 021/96990; www.shanghaiairport.com.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport. 021/96990; en.shairport.com/pudongair.html.
Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport. 0755/2777–2000; eng.szairport.com.
Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport. 0592/570–6078.
Xi'an Xianyang International Airport. 029/0500–2327; www.xxia.com.cn/en.
To and From China
Air China is China's flagship carrier. It operates nonstop flights from Beijing and Shanghai to various North American and European cities. Although it once had a sketchy safety record, the situation has improved dramatically, and it is now part of the Star Alliance of airlines worldwide. Don't confuse it with the similarly named China Airlines, which is operated out of Taiwan.
Air Canada has daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Toronto, and daily flights to Hong Kong from Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Cathay Pacific flies to Beijing via Hong Kong. China Eastern and China Southern airlines fly from China to the West Coast of the United States. Japan Airlines and All Nippon fly to Beijing via Tokyo. United flies to Beijing and Shanghai.
Air China is the major carrier for domestic routes, flying to more than 180 cities in China. Its main rivals are China Southern and China Eastern. Smaller Shanghai Airlines has a growing number of national routes, mostly out of Shanghai.
The service on most Chinese airlines is on a par with low-cost American airlines—be prepared for limited legroom, iffy food, and possibly no personal TV. Always arrive at least two hours before departure, as chronic overbooking means latecomers just don't get on. In southern China typhoons often ground airplanes, so be prepared for delays if you are traveling between July and October.
You can make reservations and buy tickets for flights within China through airline websites or with travel agencies. It's worth contacting a travel agency to compare prices.
Air China. 800/882–8122; www.airchina.com.
China Eastern. 626/583–1500; www.flychinaeastern.us.
China Southern. 888/338–8988; www.flychinasouthern.com.