Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) Travel Guide

Stop here for Chinese books, periodicals, and a limited selection of overpriced English language texts, from President Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope ($19) to Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City ($20) to Time and Newsweek ($6.50).

Get to your gate on time!

For the 2008 Olympics, this airport handled nearly 100,000 passengers and over 7,000 Olympic-related flights. That’s no issue for this sky port that saw almost 74 million passengers in 2010.

This women’s wear and accessories boutique carries little-known Chinese brands, like namesake White Collar and sister company Shee.

Pass a carved white stone wall and there, next to the bathrooms, is a vending machine with SIM cards from China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom ($22), usable in compatible phones. You can also buy prepaid phone cards in denominations of 50 and 100 yuan ($7–$15).

If your flight is delayed, go down one level to the Arrivals hall and walk 100 yards east of Gate B (with the giant glass windows overlooking the street to your right) to 12 reclining chairs amid a stand of potted palms.

Ran out of yuan at the end of your trip but need cash for a pre-boarding meal? The ATM speaks English! But be warned: most U.S. banks charge at least $5 for withdrawing from a Chinese ATM, no matter the amount.

Pick up small comforts at this duty-free foodstuffs and sundries shop. Thirsty? Try China’s popular pu’erh tea ($10) or a bottle of fiery Moutai, a fermented sorghum liquor from Guizhou, in southwest China ($125). Peckish?

If you’re new to Beijing, forgot your own guidebook, and no one is meeting you, consider picking up the best (if overpriced) guidebook in stock, Lonely Planet China ($52, but purchase in the States beforehand for $31.99). Forgo the cheap maps the store stocks for lack of details.

The airport’s mini-spa offers small, semi-private rooms with two comfy chairs each.  Try a 50-minute Tibetan Sweet Herb Alga Mud foot massage ($29). Here, the tea and dumplings may be overpriced, but water and Chinese TV are free. (Channel 9 broadcasts the state’s official news in English.)

Take home China’s drink.

Upon arrival, go one flight up directly to the Departures hall Passenger Service Center for excellent help (finding a car, hotel, transfers, sightseeing) in fluent English.

Pack duty-free liquor in an imitation Wenger “Swiss Army” carry-on-size wheelie suitcase from this travel accessories store. Smarter buys include Snuggy Snoozer neck pillows ($19) and fresh earplugs to drown out the plane engines and crying babies ($6).

In a hurry and/or traveling light? Speed your international check-in on busy travel days by taking your carry-on luggage, ticket, passport number, and frequent-flier number (if you have one) straight to a bilingual electronic self-check-in kiosk.

If you’re a first- or business-class passenger on China’s national airline, take a seat in a big upholstered chair in your own private skybox while you wait for your flight and watch the world go by—and through security—below. Drinks, snacks, and magazines are complimentary.