Chengdu’s claim to fame is the panda and you will see it prominently displayed just about everywhere. Even above the urinals (above). Most tourists will want to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Some travelers are also drawn by the natural areas outside the city. But for such a rising tourism star (this is one of the busiest airports in the country!), Chengdu International Airport (CTU) leaves much to be desired.
Arriving at Chengdu International Airport
There are two terminals, so it is a smallish airport, easy to get around. When you arrive there are buses to get into the city as well as the usual barrage of taxis. Drivers will harass you a bit just outside the front doors, but it is best to make your way to the left following the taxi signs where you will see a huge stockpile of them waiting, the drivers with stern faces and not keen on taking a fare that is too low to merit losing their place in the queue. You can argue a bit, go to the next guy, or — as in my own case — find that no one in the front row is willing to take you. Then make a scene or notify the nearby fellow policing this mob of taxis and he will force a driver to take you. He must use a meter, so be sure he complies. A ride into town can take about half an hour depending on traffic. The driver may use a toll road, in which case you are responsible for the toll (roughly $1 USD and there’s a receipt so you can confirm that).
Changing money in Chinese airports stinks. The rates are low, of course, but often worse than you might expect, PLUS there’s a commission. Change as little as possible to get into town where you can use a bank or even your hotel for a better rate. (See my post on changing money at Beijing airport)
There is a luggage storage at Chengdu Airport served by attendants for those travelers just stopping for the day or on a long layover with enough time maybe to run see the pandas. Rates for vary by luggage size and time periods. See the chart below for prices as of 2014:
Special Note: If you are worried about luggage storage you might consider a great luggage storage service similar to AirBNB that uses local businesses for your luggage. You can pre-pay and reserve storage before you even arrive. Check out Stasher to compare prices as well.
Departing from Chengdu International Airport
Check which terminal your airline departs from — most international flights will be leaving from Terminal One. Wikipedia has a good list of the airlines and their respective terminals here near the bottom of the Chengdu airport page.
There are no postcards at the airport. Just so you know. I had counted on getting some there, but found nothing at all. But you can still get a deflated duck or some rabbit heads for a meal while you wait!
There is also the predictable abundance of stuffed panda dolls at predictively double or even triple the price you would get them for out at the preserve itself. Expect to have your bags tested for explosives residue by helmeted guards at the door
There is an information desk and they do speak English. The only free Wi-Fi available requires a Chinese phone number to access. Enter that number and a text message with the password arrives. But the service is pretty lousy and may not even work at all. You may need to login several times.
There is a coffee shop in the departure check-in area with WiFi and a couple of computers as well.
Another tip about changing money at Chengdu Airport: spend it if you got it. Due to the atrocious rates and flat fee commission, you would lose approximately $15 on $100 worth of RMB (yuan). I avoid that just on principle let alone the amount.
There are some convenience stores with instant noodle type meals, a KFC for the Western fast food addict (or what you may call comfort food when confronted by rabbit heads — see photo above), and some nondescript noodle sorts of places before security and immigration.
Check in for most flights, even international, doesn’t apparently have to open until two hours before the flight. In my own experience, the check-in for China Eastern Airlines (which flies nonstop to Bangkok from here) opened even later than that, causing a small amount of anxiety for the crowd trying to even locate where check-in actually was. The video displays show the flights and when not in use, may be blank. A sign and the info desk ladies can tell you where to go typically. Several airlines may share the same desks so you may find another airline at “your” check-in counter if it is more than two hours before your flight.
Travel time by taxi to Chengdu Airport depends of course on where you are coming from. Hopefully you can get on the expressway (toll road) quickly to avoid possible traffic issues. From nearly downtown (I came from near the Kempinski Hotel if you want a reference point) is about 20 minutes if there is no significant traffic. If your driver takes the tollway, and that’s a good idea, then you’ll add seven RMB to the price and the driver will give you a separate receipt for the toll. The fare from the Kempinski area is about 40 yuan during the day (slightly more after 11pm and before 5am). Most drivers will want to charge you 70 to 100 as a fixed price, or even more. Insist on the meter. Or have your hotel call a taxi for you if no one complies.
Unless you foresee traffic issues or ticket hassles, there isn’t much reason trying to get to the airport much more than two hours ahead of time. There are some places to sit before check-in, however.
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