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China for beginners: Domestic flights

Traps for first-timers

In an effort to save some money, for one of my trips back from China, I booked a flight from Guangzhou via Beijing to Amsterdam. The flight time was reasonable, and the time between flights with roughly 2 hours seemed enough to change planes. My ears should have pricked when, upon checking in my luggage in Guangzhou, the friendly lady behind the counter told me I could not check my bag through all the way to Amsterdam. Only at my insistence did she check it through, but not without telling me that I still need to pick up my bag in Beijing. I only half-listened, not worried at all, having successfully made similar transits numerous times.

Plan enough time when changing planes in China.

The domestic flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was uneventful and with an on-time arrival (never a given for airline travel in any country).  Happily, I disembarked the plane, ready to take on the next part of my trip. It was then that I discovered that I had arrived at the domestic terminal of Beijing airport, that I indeed needed to pick up my luggage, make my way over to the international terminal, re-check all my bags and only later can continue to my next flight.

As I was waiting at the luggage belt, I started to realize that maybe two hours would not be enough to change flights and terminals. I was getting nervous. That increased with every minute that my bag didn’t arrive, and even more after it arrived. Then I frantically tried to navigate through Beijing airport. Not speaking the language, and not finding anyone with decent English skills didn’t help. By the time I finally found my way and arrived at the international terminal at the right check-in counter, they had closed the flight. I was but 15 minutes late.

Well, there was only one thing left to do now – go to the airline desk and rebook for a flight 24 hours later. Thankfully, the airline was nice enough to not charge me extra. Once I had secured a new flight for the next day, I organized at hotel near the airport. And did the only right thing – went to Tiananmen Square for a bit of sightseeing for the rest of the day. Looking back, I think I was meant to have a wonderful 24 hours in Beijing! And for next time I will either plan more time or avoid changing flights in China altogether.