Chinese airlines move millions of people around China and the globe.

Some are major airlines that have countless routes and world-class service, while others are small budget carriers that offer the bare minimum.

Here are all the Chinese airlines you need to know about.

1. China Southern

  • Chinese name: 中国南方航空
  • Airline code: CZ
  • Main hub: Guangzhou
  • Website: Visit here

China Southern is the biggest Chinese airline. With more than 600 passenger aircraft, its fleet is ranked the fifth largest in the world.

I’ve flown with China Southern a number of times and it’s been consistently good.

Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, where the airline is based, is huge, modern and impeccably clean.

2. China Eastern

China Eastern

China Eastern is one of the biggest Chinese airlines. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 中国东方航空
  • Airline code: MU
  • Main hub: Shanghai
  • Website: Visit here

Another big Chinese airline, China Eastern is in the Skyteam network.

Don’t expect great service from China Eastern. From my experience, it’s an average quality airline that will simply get you from A to B.

Passenger reviews for China Eastern on sites such as AirlineRatings and Airline Quality are pretty dismal.

See also: 10 tips for your first trip to China

3. Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific airplane

Cathay Pacific is reputable. Image by b1-foto on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 國泰航空公司
  • Airline code: CX
  • Main hub: Hong Kong
  • Website: Visit here

Cathay Pacific is headquartered in Hong Kong.

While it flies to a handful of cities in mainland China, its main focus is international destinations including Europe, the US and Australia.

It’s the only Chinese carrier that is a member of Oneworld, an alliance of the world’s leading airlines.

I’ve found Cathay to be pricier than many other international airlines, but the service is supreme and it’s one of the top ranked airlines in the world.

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4. Air China

Air China boarding

Passengers boarding an Air China flight. Image by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

  • Chinese name: 中国国际航空
  • Airline code: CA
  • Main hub: Beijing
  • Website: Visit here

Air China is the national carrier. It’s one of the few airlines in the world that fly to all six habitable continents.

The airline is based at Beijing Capital International Airport, 32 km (20 miles) northeast of Beijing.

But new airport Daxing, which is 46 km (29 miles) south of the capital, is expected to become the world’s busiest. A number of Chinese airlines are transferring their flights to the new hub.

In 2016, Air China copped criticism for its racist in-flight magazine. An excerpt read: “London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people.”

5. China Airlines

China Airlines

China Airlines is from Taiwan. Image by Tienko Dima on Unsplash.

  • Chinese name: 中華航空
  • Airline code: CI
  • Main hub: Taipei
  • Website: Visit here

Not to be confused with Air China, China Airlines is the national carrier of Taiwan. It has flights to plenty of international and American cities.

With China Airlines, you can reduce your carbon footprint by offsetting your emissions each time you fly.

6. Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines originates from Hainan Island. Image by Brookgardener on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 海南航空
  • Airline code: HU
  • Main hub: Haikou
  • Website: Visit here

Hainan Airlines has grown from a small, domestic Chinese aviation company to a global airline, with routes across the world.

Hainan is an island off the southeast corner of China. It’s the resort destination of preference for Chinese people, and increasingly foreign visitors.

I haven’t flown with Hainan Airlines yet, but I’m keen to try it. It’s the only mainland Chinese carrier in the Skytrax top 10 airlines list.

7. Shanghai Airlines

Shanghai Airlines plane

A Shanghai Airlines airplane. Image by Thiago B Trevisan on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 上海航空
  • Airline code: FM
  • Main hub: Shanghai
  • Website: Visit here

Shanghai Airlines is owned by China Eastern. It focuses mostly on the domestic Chinese market but has some international routes in Asia and further afield.

Shanghai Airlines has codeshare agreements with big airlines including Delta and Korean Air, so you can get good connections.

See also: When is the best time to visit Shanghai?

8. Xiamen Air

Xiamen Air app

Xiamen Air is a popular Chinese airline. Image by Rafapress on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 厦门航空
  • Airline code: MF
  • Main hub: Xiamen
  • Website: Visit here

Xiamen is a pretty city on the eastern coast of China. It’s known for its beaches, cool culture, and pedestrian-only Piano Island.

And, flying there is simple with Xiamen Air. It offers countless flights – both domestic and international.

You could even take advantage of Xiamen’s 72-hour visa-free transit if you want to check out the city for just a few days.

9. Hong Kong Airlines

In-flight entertainment screen

Hong Kong Airlines no longer offers in-flight entertainment. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 香港航空
  • Airline code: HX
  • Main hub: Hong Kong
  • Website: Visit here

Hong Kong Airlines is a regional airline based in Hong Kong. The airline flies to over 20 destinations in Asia Pacific.

I’ve flown with them before, en route to Japan, and they were pretty good. But since then, they’ve cut costs including cutting in-flight entertainment.

So, make sure you bring your tablet or a good book (you could try one of these Chinese history books).

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10. EVA Air

EVA Air Hello Kitty plane

A Hello Kitty styled EVA Air plane. Image by Veronika Andrews on Pixabay.

  • Chinese name: 長榮航空
  • Airline code: BR
  • Main hub: Taipei
  • Website: Visit here

Short for Evergreen Airways, EVA Air is Taiwan’s second airline.

It’s rated 5 stars by Skytrax, and is regarded as one of the world’s safest airlines.

As an EVA Air customer, you can access discounted tickets to the island’s high-speed train network. And, the kids will love the special Hello Kitty themed airplanes.

11. Shandong Airlines

Shandong Airlines is one of many Chinese Airlines

A Shandong Airlines flight taxied on the runway. Image by Chintung Lee on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 山东航空
  • Airline code: SC
  • Main hub: Jinan
  • Website: Visit here

Shandong Airlines offers things that some of the other Chinese airlines don’t, like premium economy and check-in via WeChat, China’s most popular app.

(You can see all the leading apps in China here.)

12. Shenzhen Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines fleet

Shenzhen Airlines fleet. Image by Wangkun Jia on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 深圳航空
  • Airline code: ZH
  • Main hub: Shenzhen
  • Website: Visit here

Shenzhen Airlines is ideal if you want to fly into Shenzhen – a booming tech city in the south of China.

The airline boasts domestic flights within China and also flies to some big cities in Asia.

It’s one of only two Chinese airlines to be part of the Star Alliance network (the other is Air China).

See also: Crossing the border into Shenzhen

13. Sichuan Airlines

  • Chinese name: 四川航空
  • Airline code: 3U
  • Main hub: Chengdu

If you’re planning a trip to China, it might include a stopover in Chengdu – home of the panda. This is where Sichuan Airlines is based.

In 2018, a co-pilot was sucked out of the cockpit window mid-flight on Sichuan Airlines flight 8633 from Chongqing to Lhasa.

Luckily, he managed to pull himself back inside and the airplane made an emergency landing in Chengdu.

You can watch an interview with the pilot above.

14. Tianjin Airlines

Tianjin Airlines

Tianjin Airlines is based in the north of China. Image by Photomatika on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 天津航空
  • Airline code: GS
  • Main hub: Tianjin
  • Website: Visit here

Tianjin Airlines is a good choice if you’re flying from another big Chinese city and want to get directly to Tianjin.

The city is less than an hour away from Beijing by bullet train. So, you could fly to Beijing and then catch the train to Tianjin instead.

Tianjin Airlines has some direct flights to a handful of international destinations.

15. Beijing Capital Airlines

Beijing Capital Airlines is one of the budget Chinese airlines

Beijing Capital Airlines is one of the budget Chinese airlines. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 首都航空
  • Airline code: JD
  • Main hub: Qingdao
  • Website: Visit here

This budget airline offers cheap flights to places that some of the bigger airlines won’t go. For example, they have a Xi’an to Lisbon route.

I’ve traveled on Beijing Capital Airlines before. All I can say is, you get what you pay for! Read my full (and scathing) review here.

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16. Tibet Airlines

View from Tibet Airlines plane

View from a Tibet Airlines plane. Image by Almazoff on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 西藏航空
  • Airline code: TV
  • Main hub: Lhasa
  • Website: Visit here (site is in Mandarin)

Tibet is practically in the middle of nowhere, so flying there is a great option. But because Tibet Airlines focuses on domestic flights, you’ll need to get to China on a different airline first.

See also: List of China’s provinces and regions

17. Spring Airlines

Budget carrier Spring Airlines

Low-cost carrier Spring Airlines. Image by Brookgardener on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 春秋航空
  • Airline code: 9C
  • Main hub: Shanghai
  • Website: Visit here

In Mandarin, the name of this airline actually means ‘Spring Autumn Airlines’.

If you’re in China on a whirlwind trip and want to visit Zhangjiajie (the floating mountains that inspired the movie, Avatar), you can fly directly there from Shanghai with Spring Airlines.

In my opinion, Zhangjiajie is one of the best places to visit in China.

18. Juneyao Air

Airline passenger

Juneyao Air appeals to different kinds of customers. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 吉祥航空
  • Airline code: HO
  • Main hub: Shanghai
  • Website: Visit here

Based in Shanghai, Juneyao Air owns one of the youngest fleets in China. The airline targets the middle to high level business and leisure markets.

Flights to Urumqi and Yinchuan serve Muslim food to cater to the diets of the cities’ ethnic minorities.

19. Colorful Guizhou Airlines

Colorful Guizhou Airlines is one of the smaller Chinese airlines

Colorful Guizhou Airlines is one of the smaller Chinese airlines. Image by LP2 Studio on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 多彩贵州航空
  • Airline code: GY
  • Main hub: Guiyang
  • Website: Visit here (site is in Mandarin)

This low-cost regional Chinese airline definitely has an interesting name!

Colorful Guizhou Airlines is based in the southern city of Guiyang. It’s a locally owned airline.

Even though you may not have heard of Colorful Guizhou Airlines, it’s still rated as a 3-star airline by Skytrax.

20. Kunming Airlines

Kunming Airport

Kunming Airport. Image by Fabio Nodari on Shutterstock.

  • Chinese name: 昆明航空
  • Airline code: KY
  • Main hub: Kunming
  • Website: Visit here (site is in Mandarin)

Kunming Airlines is another basic, three-star Chinese airline.

The airline focuses on flights within Yunnan province. This region, in southern China, is picturesque and has lots of tourism potential.

Buying airline tickets for China

Use your favorite flight comparison website when you’re booking China flights.

A couple that I use include Skyscanner and Kayak, but there are countless others out there.

If you have a simple return flight, e.g. Los Angeles to Shanghai, I recommend also looking at the airline’s website directly. Sometimes it may be cheaper than a comparison site.

Airplane window view

Use comparison sites for flights to China, or Trip for domestic flights. Image by Cheng Huang on Unsplash.

For more complex itineraries and round-the-world flights, stick with a comparison site or use a travel agent.

For domestic flights within China, Trip is the best site from my experience (and one of the cheapest). The site is in English.

Ready to fly?

Whether you’re looking for a full-service Chinese airline or a no-frills carrier, there are plenty of options available.

While most Chinese airlines aren’t known for outstanding service, they are getting better.

And that can only be a good thing for the increasing number of foreign travelers entering China.

I hope you learned a thing or two about Chinese airlines. If you’re headed for China soon, make sure you get a VPN before you arrive – otherwise you won’t have Wi-Fi access to Western sites like Google and Facebook!

Main photo credit: News Room on Pixabay.