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 increasing as China's air-travel industry continues to liberalize. You can catch a nonstop flight here from New York (13¾ hours), Washington, D.C. (13 hours), Chicago (13½ hours), Sydney (11½ hours), Los Angeles (13 hours), Seattle (11 hours), and London (11 hours). As new nonstop flights seem to be added every few months, check travel sites online or with your travel agent for details. Besides state-run stalwart Air China, carriers such as Hainan Airlines, China Southern, and China Eastern have all added nonstop flights recently. 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.
There are a number of Chinese cities included in the One World Alliance Visit Asia Pass. They include 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. The pass does not include flights from the United States. 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 Sky Team airline (Delta or Continental, for example) you're eligible to purchase their Asia Pass or China Pass. The China Pass allows travel to 106 destinations and prices are based on zone structure. The pass works on a coupon basis; the minimum three coupons cost $600, whereas six come to $1,128.
The Star Alliance China Air Pass is a good choice if you plan to stop in multiple destinations within China. With one ticket you can choose from 71 different locations, though the ticket is only good for three to 10 individual flights on Air China or Shanghai Airlines. The catch? You have to fly into the country on one of their flights. Hong Kong isn't included in the pass, but Shenzhen, just over the border, gets you close enough. Bear in mind that Chinese domestic flight schedules can be changed or canceled at a moment's notice.
Air Pass Info
Go Greater China (800/221–1212. www.skyteam.biz/en/travel-offers/go-china.)
China Airpass (800/241–6522 or. www.staralliance.com/en/fares/airpasses/china-airpass.)
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 mi) northeast of the city center. There are three terminals, connected by walkways and a tram system. Departures and arrivals operate out of all of them; 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 when you arrive, check that you're in the correct terminal. The best advice is to check with the airport Web site before you depart from Beijing, as you'll need to let the taxi driver know which terminal you need to be dropped off at.
Beijing's airport tax (enigmatically known as the "airport construction fee") is Y90 for international flights and Y50 for domestic. These taxes are now incorporated into your ticket prices, replacing the antiquated coupon system Beijing had before.
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. Also be sure to fill out the departure card before getting in line at the immigration check or you'll have to leave the line, fill out the card, and get back in at the end.
Both Chinese and Western-style fast-food outlets are available if you hunt around. Most are open from around 7 am to 11 pm. Prices for food and drink have been standardized for the most part at the various concessions, but it's still ridiculously expensive.
The airport is open all day. 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. If you've got a long stopover and need a rest, consider buying a package from the Plaza Premium Traveler's Lounge, near Gate 11 in the international section of T2, or on the left-hand side as you enter the domestic area, also in T2. It has comfortable armchairs, Internet access, newspapers, and a buffet. Unfortunately, it's closed between midnight and 6 am. There's another rest area in the basement, with private rooms, that is open 24 hours. The third-floor recreation center has traditional massage facilities and a hairdresser.
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. In addition, most major hotels have representatives at the airport able to arrange a car or minivan. When departing from Beijing by plane, prebook airport transport through your hotel.
When you arrive, 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. Prices per km are displayed on the side of the cab. Insist that drivers use their meters, and do not negotiate a fare. If the driver is unwilling to comply, feel free to change taxis.
Most of the taxis serving the airport are large-model cars, with a flag-fall of Y10 (good for 3½ km) plus Y2 per additional km. The trip to the center of Beijing costs around Y90, including the Y10 toll for the airport expressway. If you're caught in rush-hour traffic, expect standing surcharges of Y2 per every five minutes. In light traffic it takes about 40 minutes to reach the city center, during rush hour expect a one-hour cab ride. After 11 pm, taxis impose a 20% late-night surcharge.
Another option is the newly built Capital Airport Subway Line which departs from T2 and T3 and goes to Dongzhimen station on the northeast corner of the Second Ring Road, on the edge of central Beijing. The best thing about this: only 20 minutes travel time at a price of Y25. Air-conditioned airport shuttle buses are another cheap way of getting into town. There are six numbered routes, all of which leave from outside the arrivals area. Tickets cost Y16—buy them from the ticket booth just inside the arrival halls. Most services run every 15 to 30 minutes. There's a detailed route map on the airport Web site.
Air China is the country's flagship carrier. It operates nonstop flights from Beijing to various North American and European cities. Its safety record has improved dramatically, and it is now part of Star Alliance. 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 (CAAC).
You can make reservations and buy tickets in the United States directly through airline Web sites or with 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 Web site www.ctrip.com is an excellent option. Flights though this Web site are often much cheaper than if you book them through a foreign Web site.
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 TV. More important, always arrive at least two hours before departure, as chronic overbooking means latecomers lose their seats.