Mistake: Connecting in Beijing

Our Mistake

Kevin and I made a classic mistake when booking our flights to Thailand – we blindly picked the cheapest one-way tickets we could find.  We flew two legs on Hainan Air: First a 12-hour flight on a 787-8 to Beijing, then a 5-hour flight on to Bangkok.  Somehow, Hainan blew away our original stellar seat reservations, and it took some convincing to even get two seats together.  We ended up in the exit row, but that just meant close proximity to the lavatory, which is never awesome.  Flying on a 787-8 was certainly fun, but I somehow expected more; I think the everyday wear and tear on this airplane dulled the awesomeness of the 787.  The food on the flight was definitely better than our United Airlines food experience from our flights in 2013, but that’s a pretty low bar to begin with.

After arriving in Beijing, several things happened that really chapped my ass (not literally, of course. I wouldn’t typically write about that sort of thing on here unless the situation was especially dire…):
  1. The air conditioning was clearly broken in the entire airport. I’m talking 82+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures inside.
  2. The airport employees all seemed to disagree on where we should go to make our international connection.  Everyone we asked gave us different directions.  Eventually we found a few other Americans and realized we all needed to follow the “Domestic Transfers” sign rather than the “International Transfers” sign.  This meant we had to exit out through immigration and security, re-check in at the Hainan counter, then immediately re-enter through immigration and security.  Kevin and I both got full-on pat downs from security officers who weren’t wearing latex gloves, that can’t have been fun for them since we were sweating like crazy and hadn’t showered at that point for 24-hours!
  3. We were uncertain about what to do with our bags.  In Seattle, the check-in agent informed us that we would not need to pick our bags up at all in Beijing.  But when we reached Beijing, we saw our bags making the rounds on the baggage carousel!  We talked to a couple folks who said we could just leave them and they’d make it safely to Bangkok.  We waited in line to talk to an agent at the Hainan check-in counter, who took our baggage information from us in order to ensure the bags were transferred correctly.  Luckily, our bags safely made it to Bangkok!  Oh joy, we don’t have to walk around naked this week!  (Though that’s definitely tempting in these 100 degree temperatures.)
  4. I almost got quarantined!  Because the airport was so warm, and we had been awake for 24 hours, I was flushed and red, and an immigration agent pulled Kevin and I into a small room to take my temperature.  They had two broken electronic temperature readers, so I had to use an old school glass thermometer to make sure I wasn’t feverish and bringing in some sort of disease to China.  You’ll never guess where they stuck the therometer to take my temp!  My armpit!  (What were you thinking?  Please get your mind out of the gutter.)  I accidentally dropped one glass thermometer on the floor and it shattered, so that wasn’t helpful.  Luckily, I was running at about 98.9 degrees, and they let us go.
Our Recommendations
  1. Don’t fly through Beijing.  We haven’t flown through Seoul Incheon, but have a hunch that is the best option for travel to Bangkok from West Coast locations.  We flew through Tokyo Narita for our trip to SE Asia in 2013, and had a much better experience there than in Beijing.  There was no question about where we should go and what we should do in Tokyo, it was just easier.  However, all the food was SO EXPENSIVE there, and the airport was a little bit old.
  2. General international travel information – never ever unpack your liquids bag and don’t buy a large water you won’t be able to drink before reaching your second flight.  In both Beijing and Tokyo where we’ve connected en route to Thailand, we had to go through security again, which means complying with the liquids-in-a-ziplock-bag rule.
  3. Have you used Google Flights yet?  www.google.com/flights is our new favorite way to search for flights.  You can enter only your departure city, and use the map to see where you can travel most cheaply for your dates.  It’s also possible to enter your departure and arrival city, and look at a bar graph showing which departure date gives you the cheapest flight.  We also always use seatguru.com when selecting seats on our flights – it helps avoid missteps like sitting too near the lavatory or booking a seat that doesn’t recline.
  4. If you do fly through Beijing, here’s what we now realize we should’ve done (note: it’s possible there was just construction occurring which blocked the “international transfers” route in the airport – it’s always best to confirm with airport personnel where you need to go.):
    • When booking your flight, ensure you have ample transfer time in Beijing.  We had 4 hours, and would recommend you absolutely have at least 2 hours transfer time.
    • After arrival in Beijing, follow the signs for domestic transfers.
    • Try to stay cool!  Powder your face, try not to sweat, keep the redness at bay.  Whatever you do, don’t come here with a fever.  We may never see you again.
    • Exit out through immigration, proceeding to the baggage claim area.  At this point, you can pick up your bags if that makes you feel safer.  We wished we had just snagged our bags at the baggage claim and kept them with us since it would’ve been disastrous to lose them.  However, if you do leave them at the baggage carousel, they should magically reach your final destination.
    • As you’re exiting the baggage claim area, you may get stopped by customs so they can scan your bag.  We were waved through.  After exiting customs, take the escalator up to the second floor, and re-enter back into the international departures area.  You’ll have to show your passport and send your bags through a scanner.
    • After the scanner, check the sign to figure out which check-in counter you should use for your flight, then proceed there to queue up.
    • If you picked up your bags, re-check them with the agent at the counter.  If not, it’s a good idea to stand in line anyway to give them your baggage information.  Even if you didn’t check bags at all, it can be a good idea to check in at the counter to get your updated departure gate information.
    • Proceed towards your gate.  You’ll queue up, show your passport (again), get a thorough patdown at the security checkpoint, then you’re nearly home free.
This is the first real blog post at wevemadeahugemistake!  Now that you’ve heard so much about my chapped ass, we’d like to know a little about you.  Please leave us a comment letting us know who you are so we know who’s reading our blog.  Safe Travels!

13 thoughts on “Mistake: Connecting in Beijing

  1. Amy and Paul here!! So excited for you guys and I’m glad you started this blog, for all of us who don’t have the cojones that you guys have we can live vicariously! :) Have so much fun! You will remember this trip the rest of your life!! Safe travels!

  2. Hi, Melanie and Kevin…Teacher Bobbi here (Pre-K in Tumwater with your mom for years)! So exciting to keep up on your adventure. My son has gone to Thailand twice. Was supposed to stay and teach English the first time, but the British gal who put it all together was never located once he got there. Fortunately, he had his college roommate and his family who lived there, so he was kept safe and sound and finished a month long trip with some great memories. Good luck and be safe! It’ll be fun for all of us to tag along!

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s so fun to see who’s reading our blog. That is nuts that your son got over here and couldn’t find the British gal who put the trip together. I’m glad everything worked out for him in the end – I bet he got a pretty good story out of that!

  3. This is great guys. I really look forward to keeping up with your travel. I have connected through Seoul Incheon twice coming home from China. I had one major issue. I was flying Asiana Airlines and they wouldn’t print out my boarding pass for Seattle in China. When I got to Seoul I had to go through security without a boarding pass. Luckily I had a printed version of my itinerary and they let me through. Otherwise I am not sure how I would have made it home. Incheon is a nice airport though, really modern. Good luck you two and I look forward to keeping in touch.

    • Oh my gosh! That sounds nuts. Thanks for posting that note – really good info. It’s funny how unpredictable international travel can be. Sometimes things can go really smoothly, sometimes you can get stranded in a foreign country where you’re not able to talk to anybody. Always an adventure. :)

  4. Hey Mel! I love that your doing a blog! You crack me up, the blog name couldn’t be any more perfect! Best of luck on your adventures! I will be checking your blog :)

  5. Wow! That is one thorough blog post! I really did wonder where they stuck the thermometer! I am glad you have your bags too! Have fun! I am excited to read your blog, though it makes me miss you guys already!

    • We miss you too, Katie! Tell Erik and Iris hello. :)

      You gave us a chuckle, I’m glad we made you wonder where they stuck the thermometer.

  6. Matt and I are greatly enjoying the blog posts so far. Read them backwards, so thought I’d comment on this one. He even said “Hey, you think they’d give us tips on where to stay if we plan a trip there?” :) Any idea when a good time to visit is, weather-wise?

    • Hi Sarah! We would absolutely give you tips on where to stay if you plan a trip here. It’s funny, once you quit your job, move overseas, and don’t have house chores anymore, you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands. :)

      Where are you thinking of going, Thailand? If Thailand is your main aim, I think I would recommend visiting in mid to late December. The weather in the North of Thailand cools off during that time and there’s less rain, which makes for much better sightseeing! Also, the rain in the beachy South of Thailand is less rainy during that time as well. How much time do you think you’ll spend on vacation? We spent 4 nights in Chiang Mai, 1 night in Koh Samui, and 3 nights in Koh Tao on our trip last December. I wish we could’ve had a week in Chiang Mai, at least 3 nights in Koh Samui, and maybe 5 nights in Koh Tao… I’m greedy with vacations though! How much time do you think you guys will take? Also, are you scubadivers? My recommendations may change a little if you are. :)

  7. Pingback: A Long Layover in Seoul

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