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?
But when I told my friends that I had flown from Melbourne, Australia to the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao for only US$300 return, they said I should not complain.
But I felt like I had to.
So, here is my honest review of Beijing Capital Airlines.
If you’re an extreme budget traveler and your choice of airline is based purely on price, Beijing Capital Airlines is your holy grail.
But if you care about having a comfortable flight, and you want to arrive in China feeling great, then avoid this airline at all costs.
Lousy in-flight entertainment
Let’s start with in-flight entertainment. I mean, what’s more important on a long-haul flight than pleasantly killing time?
Beijing Capital’s in-flight entertainment is the worst I’ve experienced. And I’ve flown with plenty of airlines around 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 (both 5 and 6).
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.
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 any better.
Despite the flight attendant’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.
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 in my carry-on bag. Otherwise, that 12 hours would have felt like 112 hours!
Since this flight, I now always make sure I have my own movies ready to go on my laptop.
Adequate seat and legroom
My seat on Beijing Capital Airlines was pretty comfy.
At 188 cm or 6’3” 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. So when the passenger behind me grabbed my seat, I could feel the full effect of the jolt running through my body.
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 my meal or using my 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 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 odor-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.
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.
I couldn’t even wash my hands. Yuck.
See also: Chinese toilets
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?
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 10 am Qingdao time (China is two hours behind Australia).
No significant time zones were being crossed, so why would they do this?
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.
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 on an international flight.
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 US$300 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. This makes sense.
But I just found it surprising seeing as English is the common language on 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 flight attendant’s response? “Wait for the announcement.”
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 by saying, “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.
Nice food (if they can get your order right)
While I’m not a full vegetarian, I try to request non-meat foods as much as possible. So when I paid for my flight online, 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.
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!
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.
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.
Soft drink or water, self-service style. And I mean literally self-service in the rear galley.
See also: What do Chinese people drink?
Psst! Two quick travel tips
In case you haven’t heard, the Chinese internet is censored.
So, if you want to use hotel Wi-Fi to access all your favorite sites and apps, you’ll need a virtual private network (VPN). Read my review of the best VPN for China.
And, if you’re shopping around for flights to China, I recommend and use Trip.
They have great bundled offers with hotels, and you can even book high-speed trains on Trip too.
Beijing Capital Airlines in a nutshell
This 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 way, not on your life, absolutely forget it.
Unless it was $300!
I hope you liked my Beijing Capital Airlines review. Have you ever flown with them before? Let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, find out how long a flight to China is from your country.
Learn more about China
Don’t let my scathing review of Beijing Capital Airlines put you off traveling to this bloody amazing country.
Here are some helpful articles to read if you’re planning a trip:
The author flew on Beijing Capital Airlines in 2018. Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.
FAQ about Beijing Capital Airlines
Is Capital Airlines a good airline?
No. It’s a budget airline that just gets you from A to B. If you choose to fly with them, have low expectations.
Is Capital Airlines part of an international flight alliance?
No. It would need to lift its standards considerably to be among the world’s best airlines. I can’t imagine Star Alliance, Oneworld or Skyteam wanting Capital Airlines in their network.
Why are Capital Airlines airfares so cheap?
They cut corners in areas like customer service, entertainment, food and cleanliness.