A China United Airlines flight attendant during a safety demonstration, with a photo of the airline's meal inset.
Andrea Verdelli/Business Insider
  • I recently boarded a two-hour flight on China United Airlines, a domestic budget airline that used to be a branch of the People's Liberation Air Force in the 1980s.
  • I was impressed by the shiny new Beijing airport from which I departed, the leg room, and the flight's punctuality.
  • However, my journey also involved drinking mandatory hot water and eating some questionable pastries.
  • Scroll down to see photos.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

SHANGHAI, China - I recently had the chance to fly from Beijing to Shanghai on China United Airlines, a domestic budget airline that once belonged to the People's Liberation Air Force.

The two-hour flight involved traveling through Beijing's brand new, futuristic Daxing Airport, drinking mandatory hot water, and eating some questionable pastries.

Scroll down to see what my journey was like.


China United Airlines (CUA) was originally established as the civil transport division of the People's Liberation Air Force in the 1980s. It was later separated from the army and rebranded in 2005 as a domestic budget airline.

Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

CUA is now a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, the second-largest airline in the country behind Air China.


I took CUA's Flight KN 5955 from Beijing to Shanghai for 1,994 yuan ($282) earlier this month. I flew out of the brand new Beijing Daxing International Airport.

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Until a few weeks ago, CUA flew out of Beijing's Nanyuan Airport, which is much smaller.

It has now officially moved all its flights to Daxing, which officially opened to commercial aviation in late September 2019.


The futuristic new airport had hundreds of these self-check-in kiosks equipped with facial-recognition technology and adorned with a Chinese flag.

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However, I was told to check in at the counter because I didn't have a Chinese passport.


I missed my boarding announcements while exploring the airport, but managed to make my flight at the last minute. Here's a photo of my gate, which says in Chinese that we're flying to Shanghai at 3:40 p.m.

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I got to fly on a medium-sized Boeing 737 plane, which had roughly 26 rows of six seats — three on each side of the aisle. It was almost completely full.

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When I got to my seat, I was grateful to find a small bottle of water tucked inside the airplane pocket in front of me — I was exhausted after running to the gate.

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In the pocket was also a flyer explaining how to travel into the city from Daxing Airport. This would presumably be more useful for people traveling to, rather than out of Beijing.

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The amount of leg room was better than many budget European airlines I'd previously been on.

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Shortly after, flight attendants — wearing a dark blue traditional Chinese dress with a red belt, and a silk scarf — started giving a safety demonstration.

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There was a TV screen for every three rows that showed promotional SkyTeam videos on silent from takeoff to landing.


Soon after take-off we were given free food in a China Eastern Airlines paper bag. I was surprised we were given free food for a budget flight that was only two hours long.

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Inside was a small container of apple juice, a walnut pie, what looked like was a chocolate- or jam-filled French pastry, and a wet towel. The juice was good and the walnut pie tasted average, but the last snack was the biggest shocker — despite looking like a croissant it was actually filled with some sort of cold chicken breast.

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Moments later — around halfway through the flight — the flight attendants served us boiling water.

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Though being served hot water may sound odd to foreigners, it's totally normal in China - Chinese medicine suggests that cold water is harmful to the body, so you can forget about being served iced water in here.

I also spotted several water dispensers with only hot and warm water available while traveling through Beijing Daxing Airport.


About an hour later, around 5:40 p.m., we approached a foggy-looking Shanghai and seamlessly landed at Hongqiao International Airport.

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I was lucky that my flight landed on schedule because according to the Airportia flight tracker, KN 5955 is usually on time only 23% of the time, with an average delay of 38 minutes.


Disembarking was efficient as we didn't have to board any buses to arrive at the terminal.

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Once inside the airport, I immediately found more hot water dispensers — a ubiquitous sight in Chinese airports. The boiling water had a safety lock on it to keep out of children's reach.

Andrea Verdelli/Business Insider

I only had carry-on luggage, so all I had to do was board a series of moving walkways to the arrivals hall. It only took me about 20 minutes to get from the plane to Hongqiao's metro station.

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Hongqiao Airport is linked to Shanghai's metro system. I bought a 4-yuan ($0.56) ticket to the city by scanning a QR code on my WeChat app.

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After about an hour on the busy Shanghai subway, I arrived in the city center around 7 p.m. I left feeling like I had a seamless flight — except for the food.

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