Are you wondering what it is like flying on a Chinese airline? Even at home, most of us prefer to fly with our preferred airline, so wondering what to expect in China can be a bit daunting, especially in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Do they offer food and beverage? WiFi? English entertainment?
In this guide I am going to give you the lowdown on what to expect and how to ensure a pleasant flight on a Chinese airline.
When booking airfare anywhere throughout Asia, it’s often the case that Chinese airlines offer the cheapest rates. Or perhaps your travel itinerary to China may take you to many corners of the country requiring you to fly with a Chinese airline.
That’s not a bad thing!
In fact, having flown on countless flights to and within China, there are many aspects of flying in China that I prefer over flying elsewhere in the world, especially the USA.
Below I’ve shared some perks of flying on Chinese airlines, as well as some essential China flying tips to ensure you have a pleasant flight.
Keep in mind, because of China’s vast network of high-speed trains, it’s sometime faster AND more affordable to take a train to your destination instead of flying. This is the case when you travel between Beijing and Shanghai and even Beijing and Xian.
I would first evaluate your travel options before buying a ticket for airfare.
After reviewing your travel options and you decide that flying is the way to go, you can also reference my guide on how to get cheap airline tickets in China.
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use one of the services listed. I only recommend what I’ve personally used, and I appreciate your support!
Fly in China Tip #1: Make Check-in Easy
The first time I flew on a Chinese airline, I was intimidated by the potential language barrier when checking-into my flight. I remember asking many Chinese friends what words I would have to say upon check-in.
Later on I learned that you actually don’t need to say a single word when checking-in.
Simply share your passport, and the airline assistant will do the rest. The same thing applies when checking luggage, simply place it on the scale and let them take care of it.
On the note of checking luggage: most Chinese airlines generally allow you to check one bag for free! While there are exceptions they are generally specific to budget airlines.
It’s also worth mentioning should you be flying to China internationally and catching a connecting flight once you arrive that the weight allowance drops from 23 kilograms (50 pounds) on international flights to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) on domestic flights.
So if you anticipate having to transfer after arriving in China, weigh your luggage before leaving home and stick to a 44 pound limit instead of 50 pounds to avoid any fees.
You can also bring on one carry-on, but it needs to weigh less than 10 kilograms (approximately 22 pounds). Airport security can be real sticklers for this and even force you to check the bag should it be too heavy.
Chinese Airline Luggage Allowance
Fly in China Tip #2: Utilize Frequent Flyer Programs and Priority Pass
If you’re a frequent flyer, check to see if your home airline is part of an alliance with a Chinese airline.
Not only can you continue to earn miles, but partner airlines also generally honor frequent flyer status, giving you access to VIP check-in, faster security lanes, and airport lounges.
Personally, I’m a member of a few airlines programs in the US and I can use the perks from my frequent flyer status and earn miles on each trip I take.
On a related note, many of you may also be Priority Pass card members (whether direct members or as a perk of your credit card). You might be surprised to learn that the airport lounge network in China is strong and a good perk to take advantage of while waiting for your flight.
Fly in China Tip #3: Bring Food for the Plane
One “perk” of Chinese airlines is that you are almost always served a free drink and an in-flight meal (although this has been limited during Covid).
After flying on so many domestic flights in China, I’m always depressed when only offered a small bag peanuts on flights in the USA.
Although some would consider an in-flight meal a big perk, the truth is that food on Chinese airlines is nothing to get super-excited about. It never seems to settle well in my stomach, so I personally tend to avoid it.
If you are looking for something more suitable to eat, I recommend purchasing a meal to bring with you before boarding the airplane.
Speaking of meals you can purchase, restaurants in Chinese airports are generally expensive and may not have many food options to choose from.
In major city airports you’ll find familiar fast food, but that’s about it. It might help to think ahead and pick up something you like before heading to the airport.
Should you decide to opt for the in-flight meal, you can usually expect beef, chicken, or fish (vegetarianism isn’t really a thing in China). You should also have no problems ordering in English.
But should you want to try and order in Chinese, you can check out this China food guide resource that can help you with that.
Flying China Tip #4: Bring Your Own Entertainment
As the primary customers flying on Chinese airlines are Chinese citizens, in-flight entertainment, magazines and newspapers are typically all in Chinese.
The main exception is on international flights, where you still have the luxury of watching films in English.
So do yourself a favor and prepare all your in-flight entertainment on an iPad or laptop. Bringing some noise canceling headphones is also not a bad idea.
Or you can be traditional like me and read a book!
Fly in China Tip #5: Count on Delays
Every airline experiences delays, but in China, I have experienced so many delays that I now have my own delay action plan in place.
Once I was taking a flight from Guangzhou to Urumqi and heavy rain kept the plane grounded and me waiting at the gate for over 5 hours.
After that frustrating and miserable time waiting in an uncomfortable chair at the gate, I learned that investing in travel insurance is a must!
Had I purchased a good travel insurance policy, I could have spent those five hours at a restaurant or an airport lounge and had a portion -if not all- of the costs reimbursed.
This is because with travel insurance, your plan typically covers unexpected expenses incurred by delays at the airport.
Expert China Travel Tip
Throughout the course of my wait in the airport, I was anxious about my flight being cancelled. While I got lucky, many of my fellow travelers have been in a situation where their flight was canceled.
Should your flight be canceled, the airline will arrange a hotel for you.
But you won’t be able to reclaim your already checked luggage. So whenever traveling with a Chinese airline, pack a change of clothes and toiletries should any cancellations happen.
Final Thoughts | Traveling on Chinese Airlines
In this guide we covered everything you can expect when traveling on a Chinese airline both at the airport and on the plane. Overall flying on Chinese airlines is a lot like flying in your home country.
But above I shared tips on how to make check-in quick and easy, how to earn frequent flyer miles, along with how to make your flight enjoyable when it comes to food, entertainment, and the potential delay.
If you would like to learn more, I would check out the latest Travel China Cheaper Travel Guide Book I recently published, which covers flying in China and a whole lot more!