Don’t say ‘Take me to the airport’ in Beijing and Shanghai (part 1)

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‘Which terminal should I go to’ can be a headache at major airports in China, like the Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK/BJS but the same airport), where international airlines are at two different terminals, far from walking distance. And Shanghai has two airports: most international flights and some domestic are at Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) but many domestic flights and some international are at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, separated by over 30 miles of gridlock. And think twice about flight connections until you know if able to connect in the same place.

So writes a reader from China, now based in Atlanta, who contributes today’s and tomorrow’s posts to help travelers to his homeland. Today, Beijing.


Photo by alexbrn

Going to PEK by just telling the driver ‘Please take me to the airport’ is looking for trouble. The driver will try to inquire, in limited to non-existent English, which terminal. Or the driver may just assume it is Terminal 3,  the biggest and newest terminal, since most international airlines are there. Few drivers know the terminals for specific international airlines. Woe to the SkyTeam flyer that arrives at Terminal 3 and faces a 15-minute drive over to Terminal 2. So, before you get in that taxi, be prepared to say ‘T2’ or ‘T3,’ (and have it written on paper) which the driver should understand.

PEK (point B) is 20 miles (32km) northeast of center Beijing (point A):


Subway: Airport Express (Wikipedia)
Route: Dongzhimen -> Sanyuanqiao -> Terminal 3 -> Terminal 2 (return: -> Sanyuanqiao -> Dongzhimen)
Get on at either Dongzhimen or Sanyuanqiao station
The fare is RMB25
Operates roughly 06:30-23:00 and takes 20 minutes


Not luggage friendly

There are ten shuttle bus lines to different points in the city plus intercity buses to Tianjin and Qinhuangdao.  Great info and pictures here.

Supposing you take a taxi from Tian’anmen Square at the center of Beijing, and IF there is no traffic, the fare is around RMB 100 by meter, plus a toll of RMB 10 and takes roughly an hour. During rush hour the time can easily double.

There are three terminals at PEK known as T1, T2 & T3. T1 & T2 are next to each other; T1/2 to T3 is a 15-minute drive.

PEK3There is a free shuttle bus between terminals:
6:00~23:00 interval < 10 minutes
23:00 ~ 6:00 interval < 30 minutes
T3 arrival level Exit 5 -> T2 departure level -> T1 departure level
T2 arrival level exit 11 -> T1 arrival level Exit 5 -> T3 departure level

Terminal 1:
Currently there are only five domestic airlines at T1, four of which are small budget airlines, but it is Hainan Airline’s domestic hub. Hainan’s growing international network is at T2 so connecting passengers need to build in an extra twenty minutes for the walk.

Terminal 2:
T2 has the SkyTeam airlines, which include domestic and international flights for China Eastern (and subsidiary Shanghai Airlines) and China Southern, plus a number of other world airlines and some minor Chinese airlines. Note: the T2 page incorrectly places Continental’s logo and name on the AF (Air France) code, but Continental is at T3, as shown on the T3 page.

Terminal 3:
T3 has the OneWorld and Star Alliance airlines and some other world airlines. OneWorld has no Chinese partner, but Star member Air China, and future member Shenzhen Airlines, are here, along with several other Chinese airlines.


International-to-international transfers are still relatively rare in China but work fine at both terminals, though facilities are few. International-to-domestic transfers are improving but generally require collecting luggage, exiting, and re-checking in at the domestic departure halls. Fortunately the terminals are efficient given their huge passenger volumes, but build in plenty of time as buffer. And make every effort to transfer within one terminal. Shanghai is served by all the major domestic airlines, covering all three terminals (less frequent at T1), and other popular cities are served by multiple terminals as well, but some destinations will only be at one terminal.

Beijing’s airport is a smooth operation, and T3 is gargantuan and stunning, but plan in advance to know which terminal you are arriving/departing and be careful of connecting flights.

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4 years ago

It is generally a good idea to have a translation app in your phone, or at least to have some important things written down. Even if you can’t pronounce it, you can show it to your driver. Or just book a driver in advance and chill. 😀