The Secret To Catching Your Flight On Time In Beijing

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The Secret To Catching Your Flight On Time In Beijing

I experienced firsthand recently one of the areas where Chinese services can be incredibly efficient. I arrived at Beijing Terminal 3 at 16:03 for an international flight that was departing on time at 16:30. I was pretty skeptical that it was even worth trying, but my assistant made clear that she couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t) find a seat on a later flight as all were booked due to the public holiday.

I stepped on the plane at 16:25 and could have been there a couple of minutes earlier, if I had not shown impatience at security, leading to a second cycle of pat down.

How did this work? Four elements:

  1. No luggage to check of course
  2. Online check in. Beijing airport lets you go straight to immigration with self-printed boarding pass. The only constraint is an electronic gate that you have to go through to get to the train to get to the international departure building. This gate requires you to scan your boarding pass and it does not seem to mind if the flight is leaving at the time of scanning. The train to the terminal runs every 2 minutes so no delay there.
  3. APEC travel card. This card gives you access to a dedicated line, which is almost always empty, as it was that day. The APEC card has become a great stress reducer for me, knowing that long arrival or departure lines will not mean I miss meetings. The security line however remains a lottery: on that day the line was of moderate length.
  4. The terminal is large, so finding one of the courtesy electric vehicles saves another few minutes. Fortunately they seem to cruise around just beyond security for this reason.

Always embarrassing to be the last person on the plane – so apologies to my fellow passengers, but we did arrive at our destination 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

But (there has to be a but) why was I so late in getting to the airport in the first place? I’m after all usually obsessively early. The reason was the counter-example of how Beijing can consume massive amounts of your time inefficiently. It took more than 90 minutes to travel 30 km from a meeting to the airport.

At least on that day, the gains counterbalanced the losses.

You can read more of my views on China on my LinkedIn Influencer blog. And please follow me on Twitter @gordonorr

Image credit: gyn9037 / 123RF Stock Photo

By |May 5, 2014|Categories: Gordon's View|3 Comments


  1. Etienne Charlier May 6, 2014 at 22:15:46 - Reply

    Good example indeed. Things can be really smooth and efficient sometimes in China.

    Another common counter example to such Chinese efficiency is when you are on your seat, after everybody is getting ready for take off, and you hear the flight attendant saying:
    “Due to traffic control, the plane will not be allowed to leave for 90 minutes. We are sorry for the inconvenience. We will serve drinks and snacks in the meantime.”

    Seems to occur less often then a couple of years ago, though.

  2. Gary Rice May 16, 2014 at 00:11:29 - Reply

    I’ve found Beijing airport quite good apart from the concrete dust smell that hits you when you get of the aircraft and the slow immigration queue. The main problem I face is the city traffic and have to plan a head to make sure I don’t miss my flights.

    The flight meals are hit and miss as you don’t always get one and some times you get a bowl of joe (congee) which I’m a fan of but my business partner loves it with pickled veg.

  3. Emina May 24, 2014 at 13:23:44 - Reply

    Next time you can try subway. This way your assistant could accurately calculate the time needed for the trip to the airport (and I don’t think it could take 90 minutes even from the very west/south parts of the city). Moreover, it would give some legitimacy to your complaints about Beijing traffic congestion.

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