An Introduction to Flying in China
Flying can be the most convenient way to travel around China. It allows you to cover vast distances quickly and China’s airports are generally well-run and efficient places, as opposed to the chaos and overwhelming crowds of train and bus stations. Also, when discounted by 50% or 60%, the price of an air ticket is often only ¥100 or so more expensive than traveling by train in soft sleeper (4 person cabins). The domestic air network is extensive and it’s generaly no problem to fly between provincial capitals at a convenient time. Unless you are on a tight budget, air travel is the best way to move around China.
The defenders of train travel will tell you that air travel isn’t actually so convenient as you lose time during the day as opposed to traveling overnight and that the air travel actually takes 2.5 hours on top of your flight time (because you need to be at the airport an hour before departure and it often takes 45 minutes from the center of a city to the airport). Fair points, except that it is very rare to find a train journey between the major destinations that actually takes up only the night: the Beijing to Shanghai route is probably the only one. All other popular routes take at least 12 hours meaning you still waste time during the day. And since you need to be at the train station at least 30 minutes before departure and it will take you on average 20 minutes to reach it, you can add 1 hour 10 minutes to train journeys as well.