Since the late 1970s, the number of tourists inbound to China has skyrocketed. In 2017, the tourism industry accounted for roughly 11% of China's Gross Domestic Product. Tourism employed roughly 28 million people either directly or indirectly. Nearly 140 million international tourists made their way into China and there were nearly five billion domestic trips. It's clear that tourism is crucial to the Chinese economy. As the years go on, it's likely that an increasing number of people will choose to spend their hard-earned vacation in China.
For those that have to fly, this raises the important question: which airline? While many from the United States may think of United Airlines before Air China, or Southwest Airlines before Hainan Airlines, Chinese airlines might be worth a second examination.
Air travel in China is regulated by the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China. There are currently nine state airways. In addition to very large international airlines like Air China and high-end airlines like Hainan Airlines, the main list of state airways includes Eastern Airlines, Southern Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.
In addition to the nine state airways, there are a number of overseas airways that shuttle passengers into China. This includes many of the major American airlines like United, Delta, and Southwest. It also includes European options like Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines. Most obviously are the other regional Asian airlines. Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, and others all do a great amount of service to China. Many of these airlines are acclaimed for high quality or high value, and for those coming from the United States could present an excellent option. This is especially true if you'd like to stop over in another destination like Tokyo or Seoul on your way to the Chinese mainland.
Given the plethora of options both overseas and domestic, it shouldn't be difficult for you to find a flight in your price point or with an airline that you already have miles with. (If miles are your primary concern check our our recent article by Alexander Parini!) Most people coming from outside the country might be predisposed to prefer a brand that they have used before, but there are an increasing number of reasons to pick one of the domestic Chinese airways instead!
You might be familiar with Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa as luxurious options for air travel. Yet, according to the international air travel ratings agency Skytrax, Hainan Airlines occupies the same 5-Star category as these other luxury airlines. In recent years, Hainan's critical acclaim has risen to the top echelon of air travel, especially for the service that flight crews provide, the comfort of the seats on long travels, and the quality of the amenities like food and beverage that are available on flight.
Many travelers are on the lookout for a good deal. If this is your preference then there are even more excellent options for you. If you are attentive then you may be able to find excellent travel to major international travel hubs like Beijing from far-away destinations like the United States, Australia, and Europe. Air China, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines have become especially prominent in the mid-tier category that provides excellent service for the price that you will end up paying. As relative newcomers to the international air travel market, many of the Chinese airlines set their initial prices lower than that of older brands, which benefits the consumer greatly.
Finally, Chinese airlines are among the safest in the world. Many of the state airlines operate using Boeing 777 or 787 model planes. The General Administration of Civil Aviation of China keeps very high standards for equipment maintenance and the training and certification of its pilots. Air China even operates as the primary airlines for Chinese leaders making trips abroad, as well as foreign leaders visiting the country from abroad. If an airline is safe enough for world leaders, then it should have no problem shuttling tourists.
Overall, there are a lot of really great reasons why travelers may want to stick to an airline that they know and love. Possibly because of brand loyalty or rewards programs. You can check out a recent article by Alexander Parini if you want more information on that subject. Additionally, though, people want a safe trip at the correct price and value point. Chinese airlines are some of the safest in the world, and are now offering an increasingly diverse set of options for both luxury and budget travel. The top levels of quality are only going up and the most competitive of prices are still available if you choose a Chinese airline. Next time you find yourself traveling maybe consider a new way to fly.
About the Author: Fletcher Calcagno
Fletcher Calcagno is an undergraduate at George Washington University where he is pursuing his degree in international relations and philosophy. In his free time he enjoys debating world affairs at GW's Parliamentary Debate Society.