You’ll scratch your head when you go to book your China flights.

There are just so many Chinese airlines you can choose from.

Some are international airlines that have countless routes and world-class service, while others are budget carriers that you’ve probably never heard of.

To help with your trip planning, or even if you’re just a sucker for aviation information, here’s a list of all the Chinese airlines you need to know about.

(Oh, and I’ve flown with most of the airlines on this list, and to be honest, there’s not much between them. So don’t worry when booking your China flights.)

1. China Southern Airlines

China Southern Airlines on runway

China Southern is the biggest and most popular. Image by News Room on Pixabay.

  • 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 650 passenger aircraft, its fleet is ranked the fifth largest in the world.

I’ve flown with China Southern numerous times and it’s been consistently good.

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

2. China Eastern Airlines

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 of the major airlines, China Eastern is in the Skyteam network.

Despite its size, 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, if you want to check them out.

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.

Along with EVA Air (listed below), it’s one of two Chinese airlines to make it onto the Skytrax top 10 airlines list in 2023, though both are non-mainland China carriers.

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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 flies 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.” Wow!

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

China Airlines is the national carrier of Taiwan, so it may or may not belong on this list depending on who you ask.

Not to be confused with Air China, the airline has flights to plenty of international and American cities. There are no domestic flights within mainland China.

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

I haven’t flown with them yet, but Taiwan is definitely on the bucket list!

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

But it hasn’t always been a tourist hotspot, and Hainan Airlines used to be a small, domestic Chinese aviation company.

Fast forward to today, and Hainan Airlines is a global airline with routes to many countries. And believe it or not, it’s now one of the largest airlines in China.

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 code-share flights with big airlines including Delta Air Lines, so you can get good connections within China if you’re coming from the US.

If you’re not sure how long a flight takes from the United States to China, check this page for all the details.

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

8. Xiamen Airlines

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 Gulangyu Island.

And, flying there is simple with Xiamen Airlines. 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. (You can check out my itinerary for Xiamen here.)

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 in 2019, Hong Kong Airlines raised eyebrows when they cut in-flight entertainment to help save on costs.

My advice for traveling on any Chinese carrier is to 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. 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 Pudong and Shanghai Hongqiao
  • Website: Visit here

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

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

See also: Things to do in Yinchuan

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.

Shenzhen Airlines is one of three Chinese airlines that belongs to the Star Alliance network (the others are Air China and EVA Air).

Shenzhen is only a stone’s throw away from both Hong Kong and Guangzhou, so keep this in mind if you’re looking for more flight options.

See also: Crossing the border into Shenzhen

13. Sichuan Airlines

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

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

Not-so-fun-fact: 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. 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.

(WeChat is one of the most popular social media apps in China.)

Air China has a controlling stake in Shandong Airlines. This is common in China – practically all the main airlines are state-owned enterprises.

15. 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, alternatively you could fly to Beijing and then catch the train to Tianjin.

Tianjin Airlines has direct flights to a handful of international destinations such as Japan and South Korea.

16. 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: Beijing Daxing
  • Website: Visit here

This budget airline offers cheap flights to places that some of the bigger airlines won’t go.

For example, they fly from Hangzhou to Lisbon, and they have a Beijing to Male (Maldives) route which I’m guessing is for holidaymakers.

I’ve traveled on this airline once before. All I can say is, you get what you pay for!

You can read my full review of Beijing Capital Airlines here. It’s not pretty.

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17. 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 smart move. But because Tibet Airlines focuses on domestic destinations, you’ll need to get to China on a different airline first.

In May 2022, a Tibet Airlines flight veered off the runway at Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, bursting into flames and causing an emergency evacuation.

Luckily, all passengers and crew lived to tell the tale.

See also: List of China’s provinces and regions

18. 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 humble opinion, Zhangjiajie is one of the best places to visit in China.

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)

Don’t you just love the name of this low-cost regional Chinese airline?

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

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 a basic, three-star Chinese airline.

The airline focuses on regional routes and flights to cities in Yunnan province. This picturesque region, in southern China, sees lots of domestic tourists especially in summer and during Chinese public holidays.

I’ve flown with Kunming Airlines before and it was an efficient, no-nonsense flight, which is what you would expect.

21. Loong Air

Passengers boarding Loong Air flight

At many Chinese airports, you still board via the tarmac. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 长龙航空
  • Airline code: GJ
  • Main hub: Hangzhou
  • Website: Visit here

Loong Air is a budget carrier with lots of cheap flights, especially along the Silk Road which is in northwestern China.

For instance, you can fly from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, to Dunhuang, the home of the Mogao Caves, for just a couple of hundred yuan (US$30).

But if you’d rather take in all the spectacular desert scenery, just jump on a high-speed train instead.

Loong Air also flies to select international destinations too, including Japan, Cambodia and countries in central Asia such as Kazakhstan.

22. GX Airlines

GX Airlines aircraft

This is one of the newest China airlines. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

  • Chinese name: 广西北部湾航空
  • Airline code: GX
  • Main hub: Nanning
  • Website: Visit here (Site is in Mandarin)

Last but not least is Guangxi Beibu Gulf Airlines, or GX Airlines for short.

It’s one of the first airlines to pop up out of southernmost province, Guangxi. And it’s one of the youngest airlines on this list, having started in the aviation industry in 2015.

Although GX Airlines has fewer than 30 aircraft in its fleet, it’s already flying abroad to Thailand.

Buying airline tickets for China

Airplane window view

Trip is one of the best sites for your China flights. Image by Cheng Huang on Unsplash.

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

I recommend Trip as they’re China focused and I’ve used them time and time again. You can also get sweet discounts when you bundle hotels and flights together.

Some other good sites 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 broader air travel site.

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).

Psst! One last travel tip

Are you traveling to China soon? If so, don’t forget the internet is censored there.

When using Wi-Fi you won’t have access to your favorite sites like Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Google, and heaps more, unless you get a VPN before you go.

You can refer to my review for the best China VPN (or skip the review and go here).

Just make sure you download it before you arrive as the signup page will be blocked in China.

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, check out the things you should not bring with you. Or, find out how long is a flight to China.

Main photo: Loong Airlines aircraft; image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

FAQ about Chinese airlines

How many China airlines are there?

There’s more than 40 major, minor and regional airlines based in mainland China, and even more if you count the airlines in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

What are the 4 major Chinese airlines?

China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Air China and Hainan Airlines are the big 4 mainland Chinese airlines.

What are the different Chinese airlines?

The major airlines (e.g. China Southern and China Eastern) fly practically everywhere in China and they also fly to countries all around the world. The minor Chinese airlines (e.g. Tianjin Airlines and Shandong Airlines) have a more domestic focus, though still have some international flights. Then there are the regional airlines that specialize in particular domestic routes.

What is China’s main airline?

Air China is the country’s national flag carrier, even though it’s no longer the biggest Chinese airline in terms of aircraft or passenger numbers.

What is the best airline in China?

According to Skytrax World Airline Awards, the best airlines in China in 2023 are Hainan Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Juneyao Air, and China Eastern Airlines (in that order).