Which Airline to Fly in China?

Travelling around one of the largest countries in the world can take a long time so flying is a good option. From China's capital city, Beijing, it's 1200 kilometers South to Shanghai and another 1400 kilometers South to Guangzhou. By plane, it takes 2 and 3 hours respectively. Although air travel between cities in China is fast, the high speed trains are more reliable in bad weather and have a better record of being on time. However, not every city has an option for high speed trains so flights are often the best option.

Commercial airlines started operating internationally and domestically in China in the 1980s. The vast majority of airlines have at least 50% owned by the government. Aviation in China still a young industry which, as with the rest of the country, is experiencing rapid growth. More than 10 new domestic airlines have started operations in just the last 5 years. Although there are many newcomers to the industry, a few reliable standards are the favorite airlines of Chinese passengers.

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China Southern Airlines 中国南方航空 (CZ)

This is the largest airline in China and in the top 10 largest airlines in the world based on number of airplanes, passengers, and revenue. As its name suggests, China Southern Airlines is based in Guangzhou, the Southern part of China. Globally, they are part of the Sky Team alliance.

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China Eastern Airlines 中国东方航空 (MU)

Primarily owned by the Chinese government, China Eastern is the second largest airline in China. Headquartered in Shanghai, it mainly flies within Asia and to North America and Australia. Its longest direct flight is Shanghai to New York City.

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Air China 中国国际航空 (CA)

As the "flag carrier", Air China is the preferred national airline for China. They have hubs in Beijing and Chongqing with international flights to all 6 inhabitable continents, one of only a few airlines to achieve this.

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Hainan Airlines 海南航空 (HU)

Chinese people choose Hainan Airlines because it has the best food (usually rice, some meat and vegetables). They've even been ranked internationally as a 5-star airline, only the 2nd Chinese airline to receive this distinction. They don't participate in any global alliance programs

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Sichuan Airlines 四川航空 (3U)

Primarily a domestic airline headquartered in Chengdu, Sichuan airlines is most famous in China for always serving 老干妈 (lǎogānmā, spicy sauce) with meals. They fly all over Asia as well as to Australia, Europe and North America and aren't affiliated with a global alliance.


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Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is an expat from New York City who moved to Shanghai with her husband in 2017 and is falling in love with the Chinese culture and people. She is studying Mandarin, teaching English, and has tens of thousands of questions about language, life, and culture.