Thanks to a series of recent policy relaxations, travel to China is beginning to get easier and an increasing number of direct flights between the UK and China are also now available. Read on for the latest updates
Summer 2022 saw a reduction of China’s quarantine duration from 21 to 10 days (seven days in a quarantine hotel and three days in your place of residence, if permissible), as well as the simplification of the pre-departure testing procedure.
China has also relaxed its visa rules by removing the requirement for British nationals to acquire PU letters in order to apply for a Z (work), M (business), or F (non-commerce visit – e.g., lecture, research, cultural exchange) visa, in addition to reopening applications for X1 student visas (for long-term students who intend to study in China for more than 180 days).
With all of this in mind, the question then becomes: how can you fly to China from the UK?
After being suspended in late 2020, direct flights between China and the UK resumed in mid-August, with Air China flying to London Heathrow from Beijing and Shanghai once per week.
Hainan Airlines resumed direct flights from Beijing to Manchester in late August 2022, with a once-weekly service arriving and departing on Monday. Note that due to policy in China, the outbound service to Beijing currently stops in Dalian, where passengers will have to quarantine before travelling onwards to Beijing.
Air China is also operating flights from London to Shanghai and Beijing with tickets currently in very high demand. Flights from London to Qingdao operated by Capital Airlines have also begun, but availability is limited. Other planned flight routes include London to Guangzhou with China Southern and London to Shanghai with China Eastern.
The flights are being operated in accordance with China’s circuit breaker system – meaning if a certain number of cases are found on a particular flight, the route will be temporarily suspended – with additional flights being added to routes operating with lower numbers of Covid-19 cases on board.
You can keep track of which flights are currently suspended under the circuit breakers measures on the Civil Aviation Administration of China website.
When it comes to booking direct flights, we suggest contacting the airlines directly and using their official websites (as opposed to booking engines like Trip.com). It is also worth checking for flights on routes to cities other than Beijing and Shanghai, such as Dalian, Guangzhou or Qingdao.
Flights via a third country
Direct flights are recommended because they significantly simplify the process of travelling to China, but availability is still low and prices high. However, travel through third countries is now permitted and presents a wide range of potential options, as long as you can complete the required pre-departure tests and health declaration in your country of departure and the third country.
Popular routes from the UK via an airport with the necessary pre-flight PCR testing facilities include Helsinki with FinnAir, Copenhagen with SAS, Frankfurt with Lufthansa, and Amsterdam with KLM.
It is worth checking this list of available flights by Blog of Ikky in China, which often gets passed around in WeChat/Facebook groups for people returning to China (however, we cannot guarantee the veracity of the information).
A number of Chambers of Commerce of some European countries in China offer charter flights that can be booked by both members and non-members. For example, AHK (German Chambers of Commerce abroad) is offering a number of flights from Frankfurt to Qingdao up to March 2023, including support from a dedicated team prior to departure and during quarantine. The Italian, Swiss and French Chambers have also arranged flights in recent months.
For more information about the travel process, including testing requirements and how to apply for the Health Declaration Certificate, read Tom Simpson’s recent article about his travel to China.
Another good tip put forward by Smart Shanghai based on one of their editors’ experiences of travelling to China in summer 2022 is to email your nearest Chinese consulate or embassy with your flight and testing plan to ask if it is feasible. Their contact details are usually easily found on their website.
Disclaimer: All details were correct at the time of writing, however, the situation continues to evolve, so we recommend checking directly with the airline or the Chinese embassy where you live if you have any concerns. The flights/routes mentioned above do not represent a complete list of options available.