If I had to describe Beijing Capital Airlines in one word, it would be ‘horrid’.

Malfunctioning in-flight entertainment, broken bathrooms, staff who can barely speak English, unfulfilled food requests – need I go on?

That said, when I told my family and friends that I had flown from Melbourne, Australia to the north-eastern Chinese city of Qingdao for only $450 (US$300) return, they too agreed that I could not complain for this unbelievably low price.

In fact, flying from Melbourne to other Australian cities can sometimes cost as much.

If you’re a budget traveler and choose who you fly with based purely on price, I’d say go for it. Beijing Capital Airlines is your holy grail.

But if you care about any of the bad things below, I’d say run for the hills.

So, here’s my review of Beijing Capital Airlines.

Lousy in-flight entertainment

The Chinese carrier’s in-flight entertainment is the worst I’ve experienced. And I’ve flown with plenty of airlines across the world, from budget to award-winning.

On my flight from Melbourne to Qingdao – which is 12 hours I might add – there were just four English movies to watch: Flipped, The Dark Knight, and Fast and Furious 5 and 6 (groan!).

I would have forgiven the fact that these movies are about a decade old, and had Chinese subtitles taking up about a quarter of the television screen, had I been able to watch them on-demand.

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Whilst on-demand was technically available on the flight, the condition of the TVs was so bad that not everyone had this luxury. Me included.

Essentially the touch functionality of the TV was inoperable, and the remote control wasn’t much better.

Despite the air stewardess’s best attempt at resetting my TV twice (which failed both times), my only option was to ‘jump in’ and watch one of the four movies already playing.

Now, call me precious, but I’m not one to start watching a movie part-way through and enjoy it. Not at all.

Beijing Capital Airlines in-flight entertainment screen

My in-flight entertainment didn’t work. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Passenger watching own entertainment on Beijing Capital Airlines flight

Other passengers had the same problem. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

A passenger sitting across from me had exactly the same problem. Looking around the plane, very few people were operating their TVs.

It’s clear to me that Beijing Capital Airlines needs a complete refit of its multimedia. And if they want to retain customers, they need to do it fast.

All I can say is thank God I had my Kindle and iPod in my carry-on bag.

(Here’s a travel tip – if you bring a tablet or laptop in your bag, make sure you have your own movies ready to go. Sadly, I didn’t.)

Adequate seat and legroom

My seat on Beijing Capital Airlines was pretty comfy.

At 188 cm or 6’2” tall, I find most economy seats are a tight fit but this one felt OK. Or, maybe I was just buoyed by having my friend, Liz, accompany me for the journey.

Width seemed fine (I’m slim though) and legroom was passable for ‘cattle class’.

The seat back, however, wasn’t overly thick. If someone were to grab your seat from behind, you could feel the full effect of the jolt running through your body.

leg room on economy flight

Legroom on economy class. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Laptop on flight tray table

My small laptop barely balanced on the tray table. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Trash behind the seat

Trash behind the seat. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The tray table was interesting. It didn’t extend out further than two inches from the seat in front.

So, trying to do simple things, such as eating your meal or using a laptop, was hard.

Some rubbish had been jammed into the front of Liz’s seat, behind the tray table. This was unpleasant and made us question the cleanliness of the aircraft.

Filthy toilets and broken bathrooms

While I’m on the topic of cleanliness, let me tell you what the the toilets are like on this Chinese airline.

Filthy! Yep, pee all over the floor and toilet seats that are long overdue for replacement.

The toilets were that smelly that staff had hung little bags of odour-eating beads behind each toilet door. I’ve never seen that before.

One thing that made me laugh was the washbasin cabinet that been broken and taped up as a result. And I mean literally taped up.

Taped up Beijing Capital Airlines bathroom

The plane was literally taped up. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Beijing Capital Airlines inoperable wash basin and Chinese sign

Inoperable wash basin with a Chinese sign. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

This issue wasn’t confined to one toilet either – I noticed a different part of the cabinet taped up in another toilet as I walked past.

What didn’t make me laugh though, was the broken tap in the bathroom nearest my seat.

You couldn’t even wash your hands. Not good.

See also: Chinese toilets

Quick check-in

Check-in was quick and efficient, though I did arrive three hours before my flight’s departure time.

I didn’t get asked the usual question about packing dangerous and flammable items.

Maybe they don’t have to ask that anymore. Who knows?

Average atmosphere

The atmosphere on my flight was average.

Hopping on, the greeting was lackluster at best. And there’s no welcoming music or video on a Beijing Capital Airlines flight.

Strangely, about two hours into the Melbourne-Qingdao flight, just after food had been served, the lights were switched off.

The time would have been 12 noon Melbourne time, which is 2 pm Qingdao time (China is two hours behind).

No significant time zones were being crossed, so why would they do this?

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This move effectively forced everyone to either have a midday snooze or turn their reading light on. When it’s nice and light outside, this is ridiculous if you ask me.

Questionable safety

Safety didn’t seem to be a priority.

While I’m no safety expert, unlike other airlines there was no safety demonstration at the start of the flight. I think this is the first time I’ve experienced this.

Given the toilets were taped up, I’d hate to see what they do with their engines.

Incredibly low price

The price of my Beijing Capital Airlines flight was the only saving grace.

Paying just $450 to fly 12 hours (and back) long haul is exceptionally good.

If it were full price, I wouldn’t consider flying Beijing Capital Airlines given the numerous issues.

A few friendly staff, but none who could speak English well

Staff’s command of the English language was poor.

Given 99% of passengers were Chinese, I guess they only need to know the basics. But I just found it surprising seeing as English is the common language or international airlines.

I had two simple, separate questions for the Beijing Capital Airlines staff.

My first question related to whether the TV channels could be found in the in-flight magazine, as my in-demand functionality wasn’t working. Want to know the air stewardess’s response? “Wait for the announcement.”

Beijing Capital Airlines flight attendants

The flight attendants are friendly but struggle with basic English. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

My second question really bamboozled them. And I really wasn’t trying to bamboozle them!

I asked if the air stewardess was from Qingdao, to which she replied “yes”. I said “Great, can you please recommend the best places to visit?”

She replied “I’ll come back.” Then, about 10 minutes later, she handed me an arrival card for China. And that was it.

Look, the Beijing Capital Airlines staff were fairly friendly and tried to help, I’ll give them that.

But sometimes you just need to be understood.

See also: Traveling in China without speaking Chinese

Nice food (if they can get your order right)

While I’m not a vegetarian, I try to request non-meat foods as much as possible. So when I paid for my flight via Bestjet, I requested the vegetarian meal.

My travel buddy, Liz, is a strict vegan, so I requested a vegan meal for her.

When it was time for lunch, we were not given our respective vegetarian and vegan meals. Surprise, surprise.

In-flight food on Beijing Capital Airlines

My meal. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Vegan airplane food

Vegan lunch. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Chinese airline food

What the hell is this? Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I couldn’t be bothered requesting something different to the pork or fish that was being offered, but Liz needed her vegan meal.

Luckily, they had a spare vegan meal out the back. Crisis averted!

Restricted alcohol

I was shocked to discover that there was a limit of two alcoholic drinks per person for the duration of the flight.

And it was being strictly enforced.

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I can understand there being limits on alcohol on short-distance flights or budget domestic carriers. But I’ve never flown long haul and been knocked back a third beer some 10 hours into a grueling and boring flight.

The alternative?

Soft drink or water, self-service style. And I mean literally self-service in the rear galley.

See also: What do Chinese people drink?

Beijing Capital Airlines in a nutshell

The budget Chinese carrier will get you from A to B, for a low price. Just don’t expect anything more than the seat you sit on.

For me, flying with Beijing Capital Airlines proved that you truly get what you pay for – a no-frills air ticket. Nothing more, nothing less.

If I had a choice to fly with them again, I would say no, no way, not on your life, absolutely forget it.

Unless it was US$300!

Have you ever flown Beijing Capital Airlines before? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience. I’ve also written about the food you’re not allowed to bring to China – check it out.

You might also like 10 tips for your first trip to China.