So you’ve booked your trip to Asia and might be wondering what Chinese Airports might be like. At a minimum, you’ll want to know how they compare to their US counterparts. Here are some things you should be aware of when moving through the airports of China.
Immigration is Still Strict
China does a really good job with immigration and security. Make sure before you visit that you’ve got the proper visa for your trip in your passport. For tourists visiting the mainland, this is typically the L visa. If you’re going to Hong Kong, US travelers do not need a visa. When booking your trip, it’s best to double check the University of Google for updated visa information. Of course, if you’re visiting a first tier city and entering using a transit visa, go the the “Special Lane”. Don’t make Aaron’s mistake of waiting in the immigration line for an hour, only to find out you’re in the wrong place.
Watch Out for Flight Delays
There were times I was traveling around China where our flights were delayed. In Beijing for a night flight, we were corralled onto a bus to stay at a hotel because of rain delay. If not for my Chinese husband, I wouldn’t have known what was going on because they only announced this in Chinese. If you’re traveling without the aid of a Chinese friend, make sure you keep in constant contact at the boarding gate so they will lookout for you. About an hour after they took us to the hotel, they collected us again to catch our flight out. It was a little chaotic, so beware.
Bigger Airports are More Interesting and Comfortable
If you’re flying into any of the bigger Chinese airports, like those found in Shanghai or Beijing, you’ll have plenty of choices for keeping busy on layovers, or while awaiting your return flight. There are plenty of shops where you can get some last-minute souvenirs for friends and family back home, or just to browse through to pass the time. Conveniently, there are also restaurants that range from fast food (often KFC) to sit-down noodle joints. Conversely, If you just want a bottle of water and some candy, you’ll find shopping marts where you can pick those up.
Smaller Airports Leave Much to be Desired
I lived in Qingdao for 5 years, if you’ve never heard of it, it’s the place where Tsingtao beer is made. It’s a relatively large city but not on the scale of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen. I always hated the Qingdao airport because it’s small and there’s not a whole lot to do. Though according to my friends that still live there, you’ll now find a KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks, in addition to some overpriced noodle places. For cheap eats, you can buy ramen noodles at the small store once you pass through the gate. They have hot water on tap so you can make yourself a meal on the go. To save the most money, stock up on easy-to-eat food before getting to the airport. And always bring plenty of music and reading materials to keep you busy while you waiting to board.
Temperature Control Can be an Issue
When we left China for the last time, we were flying out of Guangzhou to New York City. It was the middle of summer and since Guangzhou is in the south, it was very hot outside. While awaiting our flight, we were trapped in a large room with no air conditioning. It was hot. It was muggy. And with two children under the age of 5 (one under the age of 1), it was pure, unadulterated hell. I’ve never been so happy to get on a plane in my entire life.
Bathrooms are Hit or Miss
The bathrooms in big Chinese airports are usually much more comfortable and relatively clean (for a Chinese public bathrooms that is). You’ll usually find them to be equipped with toilets, though some will have a mix of toilets and squatters. The Qingdao airport had mostly the latter with one regular toilet available for use in each bathroom. But you might be surprised by the quality of the bathrooms in the cities you travel through. I once had to catch a flight from Xiamen to Singapore and I was shocked that the bathrooms were so much nicer than Qingdao.
And as with most foreign destinations, always keep an eye on your belongings. There are shifty people everywhere and if you look like you’re completely out of your element, you could be easy prey. The good news, is most people you’ll come into contact with will be very nice and quite curious about you so be sure to smile and say “ni hao!”