Beijing is one of China's three major international hubs, along with Shanghai and Hong Kong. The number of nonstop flights to Beijing has been steadily increasing, with a few new nonstop flights added every month. You can catch a nonstop flight here from New York (13¾ hours), Chicago (13½ hours), Washington, D.C. (14 hours), Los Angeles (13 hours), Sydney (11½ hours), and London (11 hours). Besides state-run stalwart Air China, carriers such as Hainan Airlines, China Southern, and China Eastern all have nonstop flights. Multiple-stop flights from other cities generally stop in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, or Vancouver.
Airlines and Airports
Airline and Airport Links.com. Airline and Airport Links.com has links to many of the world's airlines and airports. www.airlineandairportlinks.com.
Airline Security Issues
Transportation Security Administration. The TSA has answers for almost every question that might come up. www.tsa.gov.
A number of Chinese cities are included in the One World Alliance's Visit Asia Pass, including major destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong as well as interior stops such as Xi'an, Chengdu, Xiamen, Nanjing, Kunming, and Wuhan. Cities are grouped into zones, and there is a flat rate for each zone. Inquire through American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, or any other One World member. It won't be the cheapest way to get around, but you'll be flying on some of the world's best airlines.
If you are flying into Asia on a SkyTeam airline (Delta, for example) you're eligible to purchase a Go Greater China Pass. It allows travel to nearly 150 destinations, and prices are based on a zone system. You’ll have to book directly with a Sky Team airlines (such as China Eastern or China Southern) to get the discounted fares.
The Star Alliance's China Airpass is a good choice if you plan to stop in multiple destinations within China (including Macao and Hong Kong). With one ticket you can choose from more than 70 different locations, though the ticket is only good for three to 10 individual flights on Air China or Shenzhen Airlines. The catch? Chinese domestic flight schedules can be changed or canceled at a moment's notice.
Air Pass Info
China Airpass. 800/241–6522; www.staralliance.com/en/fares/airpasses/china-airpass.
Go Greater China. 800/221–1212; www.skyteam.biz/en/travel-offers/go-china.
Visit Asia Pass. 800/433-7300; www.oneworld.com/flights/single-continent-fares/visit-asia.
The efficient Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) is 27 km (17 miles) northeast of the city center. The three terminals are connected by walkways and a tram system: T1 serves mainly domestic flights, while T2 and T3 serve both domestic and international flights. If you can't find your flight on the departure board, check that you're in the correct terminal. The best advice is to check with the airport website before heading to the airport, as you'll need to let your taxi driver know which terminal you need.
Clearing customs and immigration can take a while, depending on how busy the airport is. Make sure you arrive at least two hours before your scheduled flight time. Be sure to fill out the departure card before the immigration check or you'll have to leave the line, fill out the card, and start all over.
There is an uninspiring transit lounge for T1 and T2 in which to while away the hours. T3's waiting area is a bit more comfortable. Both Chinese and Western-style fast-food outlets are available if you hunt around, but they are expensive for what you get. If you've got a long stopover, consider buying a package from one of the Plaza Premium Traveler's Lounges, near Gate 11 in T2 and Gate E13 in T3. Both have comfortable armchairs, Internet access, newspapers, and a buffet.
While wandering the airport, someone may approach you offering to carry your luggage, or even just to give you directions. Be aware that this "helpful" stranger will almost certainly expect payment.
Beijing Capital International Airport. 010/96158; www.bcia.com.cn.
The easiest way to get from the airport to Beijing is by taxi. Most major hotels have representatives at the airport who can arrange a car or minivan. When departing from Beijing, prebook airport transport through your hotel.
When you arrive in Beijing, head for the clearly labeled taxi line just outside the terminal, beyond a small covered parking area. The (usually long) line moves quickly. Ignore offers from touts trying to coax you away from the line—they're privateers looking to rip you off. At the head of the line, a dispatcher will give you your taxi's number, useful in case of complaints or forgotten luggage. Insist that your driver use the meters, and do not negotiate a fare. If the driver is unwilling to comply, feel free to change taxis.
The initial fare is Y13—good for 3 km (2 miles) —with Y2.3 for each additional kilometer. A trip to the center of Beijing costs around Y80. In light traffic it takes about 30 minutes to reach the city center; during rush hour expect the trip to take an hour. After 11 pm, taxis impose a 20% late-night surcharge. A Y10 toll is added to fares when you're headed to the airport.
Another option for getting downtown is the Airport Express Subway Line, which departs from T2 and T3 and stops at Sanyuanqiao (northeast Third Ring Road) and Dongzhimen (northeast Second Ring Road) subway stations. The trip takes 20 minutes and costs Y25.
Air-conditioned airport shuttle buses are the cheapest way of getting into town. There are six numbered routes, all of which leave from outside the arrivals area. Tickets, which cost Y15 to Y24, are available from the ticket booth just inside the arrival halls. Departures are every 15 to 30 minutes. There's a detailed route map on the airport website.
Air China, a member of the Star Alliance, is the country's flagship carrier. It operates nonstop flights from Beijing to various North American and European cities. China Southern is the major carrier for domestic routes. Like all Chinese carriers, it's a regional subsidiary of the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Buy tickets in the United States through airline websites or travel agencies. It's worth contacting a Chinese travel agency like China International Travel Service (CITS) to compare prices, as these can vary substantially. If you're in China and want to book flights to other cities in the country, the websites www.ctrip.com and www.elong.com are excellent options. Flights though this website are often much cheaper than if you book them through a foreign website.
The service on most Chinese airlines is more on par with low-cost American airlines than with big international carriers—be prepared for limited legroom, iffy food, and possibly no personal video monitors. More important, always arrive at least two hours before departure, as chronic overbooking means latecomers lose their seats.