Review: China United Airlines Shanghai Pudong to Beijing Nanyuan

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China United Airlines is a Low-Cost Carrier in China owned by Shanghai Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. The airline is based in Beijing’s secondary airport, Beijing Nanyuan (NAY), instead of Beijing’s main Capital International (PEK). Their fleet consists of exclusively 737s and only flies domestically in China. I purchased this ticket last minute as I was rerouted to Shanghai from London and have to get to Beijing on the day of this flight. I paid 900CNY (130USD/1030HKD) for this flight on the day before the flight when other flights are all selling to up to 1300CNY (190USD/1500HKD).

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Check-in

It was about a 15-minute walk from Shanghai Pudong’s Terminal 2 to Terminal 1. Terminal 1 in Shanghai Pudong is primarily used by Spring Airlines, another Chinese Low-Cost Carrier that is based in Shanghai Pudong. Otherwise, the terminal’s prime occupant is China Eastern Airlines and it’s Skyteam partners.

China United Airlines shares the check-in counter with China Eastern and uses check-in aisle C. However if you are a Skyteam Elite member, you can use the premium check-in counters of China Eastern in Check-in Aisle A instead. China United Airlines uses last two counters in aisle C and opens check-in only 2 hours before departure.

China United Airlines Check-in Counters Shanghai Pudong Airport Terminal 1

I received my boarding pass within minutes despite the line.

China United Airlines charges for check-in bags, unlike most Chinese mainline carriers. You should always purchase your check-in baggage online as they offer a discount if you purchase your check-in baggage allowance online. If you purchase the allowance at the airport, they charge 30CNY (5USD/40HKD) for every 5KG of baggage. You are entitled to one piece of carry-on baggage and one personal item weighing less than 10KG.

You can visit their site through this link and input your E-ticket number and name. The website does not have an English version even though you seem to be able to change the language on the tab above. Anyways, google translate comes in handy on this site. Alternatively, you can call China Eastern’s English hotline for assistance.

China United Airlines website (Google Translated)

The boarding pass does not explicitly tell you that you are flying to Beijing Nanyuan and instead only says Beijing as the destination, but you will see the airport code is NAY instead of PEK for Beijing Capital International Airport.

Boarding Pass China United Airlines

Upon Boarding

Terminal 1 is not huge and security was fairly quick. I ended up at the gate about 50 minutes before scheduled boarding time. There is not a lot of lounge options in Pudong’s terminal 1 and only 2 priority pass lounges are available. Both of these are contract lounges so I did not bother to visit and instead sat by the gate.

Our plane arrived as I sat down. My flight is operated by a 737-800 that was less than a year old. Boarding was called on-time and I queued up to be the first to board in order to snap some pictures.

China United Airlines B737-800 Shanghai Pudong

Gate 2 is at the far end of the terminal

07 July 2018

KN5982 PVG-NAY 1010 1245 B738

Seat 47L Economy Class

China United Airline’s 737s uses the standard 3-3 configuration. The seats are 17 inches wide and only offer a mere 29 inches of legroom. Similar to airlines like RyanAir, the seats on China United Airlines does not offer any recline. There is no headrest but the seat is surprisingly well padded and is quite comfortable. The new plane also features mood lighting which is great.

Seats on China United Airlines B737-800

China United Airlines B737-800 Cabin

China United Airlines B737-800 Mood Lighting

The plane was about 80% full and we pushed back about 5 minutes before scheduled departure time. There was no safety video and the crew performed manual safety demonstration. The crew has simple command of English.

Service

Unlike most budget airlines, China United Airlines actually serves you a small bottle of water after take-off, which was surprising. I also ordered a meal on the flight as I got quite hungry by the time the flight took off.

Bottled Water served on China United Airlines

I ordered a “curry beef meal” which came in a box. I paid 35CNY (5.5USD/45HKD) for this meal, which was quite expensive for an average Chinese consumer. The meal consisted of two containers with the rice and the curry beef stew respectively. The portion size is actually pretty big, much to my liking. The food tasted alright but you can clearly tell the curry is made of powder. I would not recommend ordering this but the food is totally edible.

There is nothing much else to say about this flight since there are no other services. We began our descent at 11:40am local time. During the approach, the plane flew by the new Beijing Airport that is currently under construction. This was my first time flying into Nanyuan and the views are fascinating. Upon landing, you can see the retired Tu-154Ms that use to fly for China United Airlines being parked by the runway.

We landed at 12:10pm local time and it was a short taxi to the gate.

View of Beijing’s New Airport

China United Airlines Tu-154M in Beijing Nanyuan

China United Airlines B737-800 Beijing Nanyuan

Beijing Nanyuan Airport does not have any public transport but is quite close to the city. Beijing Nanyuan Airport is infamous for taxi scams, so make sure you only take a metered taxi from here. Another thing to beware of is that Nanyuan airport’s usage is shared with the military, which may result in unexpected delays for your flight.

There is a no-photo policy around the airport premise after leaving the passenger terminal, as the airport is technically located in a military base. So please don’t take random photos of military aircraft around the airport. You are allowed to take photos if you are in the terminal area or on a plane.

Conclusion

China United Airlines is almost the cheapest airline to fly in China. I will definitely recommend it if you are price sensitive and enjoy the great value for money.  However, the lack of English customer service can be confusing.

Nanyuan airport is not the best airport you will find in China. It’s small and prone to unexpected delays. To be honest, it’s like Midway Airport of Beijing (which means the airport is a dump). But if you are intrigued by exploration, this is definitely one of the unique airports in China that you should fly in or out from, just for the sake of the experience.

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