Post-COVID Air Travel in China: Easier Than I Imagined

It was less than 24 hours before my flight to Ningxia was scheduled to take off from Beijing Capital International Airport, and already I found myself grappling with a new form of travel-related anxiety.

What was it like to go through the airport in China in the post-COVID era? Did I have everything I needed to ensure a smooth check-in, security check and boarding experience? Would I have a harder time as a foreigner?

I was already bracing for delays and hiccups, after being advised by a colleague to arrive at the airport at least two and a half hours ahead of departure because he said processing foreign passengers was “more trouble”.

So imagine my surprise the following day at the airport, when I breezed through every procedure in record time, without so much as an unexpected holdup of any kind. Going to the airport in China in the post-COVID era proved far easier than I expected.

Here’s a rundown of what I experienced while going through airports during my trip — to help you know what to expect next time you do any domestic air travel in China.

Before coming to the airport: Wear your mask

Along with all of the usual travel must-haves that I tucked into my bags, from wipes and hand sanitizer to moisturizing hand lotion and lip balm, I included a package of standard disposable masks. Make sure you don’t forget your masks — whether disposable or washable — since you need to have one on to enter the airport and board your plane, and may also need it for other destinations during travel.

Entering the airport: Show your “green” health code, pass temperature screening

As anyone residing in China in the post-COVID era knows, going anywhere requires that ultimate “passport” in the form of a “green” health code in your WeChat. I had to pull up my health code and flash it to an airport employee checking everyone walking into the airport. As long as you have a “green” health code, you can enter the airport.

If you have either a “yellow” or “red” health code, you will get pulled aside by the airport personnel (which happened to two guys I saw standing by a table with a woman asking them questions) and almost certainly not be able to travel. Before you even hop in your taxi, bus or other public transport to get to the airport in China, I would recommend checking your health code to ensure it’s “green” — and avoid the embarrassment or trouble of having your travel plans cut short at the airport.

Assuming you have a “green” health code, you also need to pass through a temperature screening. At Beijing Capital International Airport’s T3, they had a machine that could monitor the temperature of everyone walking through a checkpoint.

Checking in at the airport: Remember when you last left/returned to China

At the check-in counter at the Yinchuan airport, the lady asked me an additional question I would never have heard before COVID-19: “When was the last time you entered China from overseas?”

Now that imported cases pose the greatest risk for outbreaks in China, they’re just inquiring to ensure you’re not potentially bringing COVID-19 into the country or breaking your quarantine.

So it’s a good idea to have in mind your last entry date, so you don’t waste time flipping through your passport to find your latest entry stamp. Doesn’t have to be exact — I just said mine was during a certain month in 2019, and that was sufficient.

Boarding the plane: Temperature check and hand sanitizer

When I was boarding my flights, besides the usual boarding pass scanning, there was also a person holding a no-touch thermometer who checked everyone’s temperature and then gave each of us a squirt of hand sanitizer on our hands or wrist.

Arrival: Temperature check, health code, and possible registration/questions

On arrival at both airports, I had to pass through a temperature check gateway with a machine that monitored everyone’s temperature. Yinchuan also required passengers to show their “green” health code. Additionally when someone at the Yinchuan airport saw I was a foreigner, they asked me a few questions and directed me to register my name and some basic contact information on a log sheet. One of my colleagues said some destinations may require you to use their own local version of the health code app, or may ask you to scan a code.

The whole process went so smoothly for me that, apart from a few small differences, it felt a lot like air travel before COVID-19.

Now that you know what to expect for your next domestic flight in China, here’s hoping you’ll have one less thing to worry about before you head to the airport. Happy travels — or as they say in Chinese, 旅途愉快 (lǚtú yúkuài)!

P.S.: If you want to see what my trip to Ningxia was like, check out my post Photo Essay: Ningxia Video Shoot (More Than Just Goji Berries).

Have you done air travel within China in the post-COVID era? What’s been your experience?

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