Crowned one of the world’s best airports in multiple rankings, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) is an efficient hub for travellers based in its home city and, increasingly, beyond.
A growing infrastructure network has made it possible for many Greater Bay Area residents to fly out of HKIA and take advantage of Cathay Pacific’s service to more than 100 destinations worldwide. In fact, it’s quicker for those based in Shenzhen’s Futian district to get to HKIA than Shenzhen’s own Bao’an International Airport.
I recently put the top two methods to the test – ferry and high-speed train. Read on for my first-person account of each experience, including tips to set yourself up for a hassle-free transit from Shenzhen to Hong Kong International Airport.
How to Travel by Ferry to HKIA
When I arrived at Shenzhen Shekou Cruise & Ferry Terminal in Nanshan district, I was impressed by the design; the glass-clad, vaulted concourse looks and feels like a modern airport.
Besides berths for grand-scale cruise ships, it’s also the site of daily ferry services between Shekou and neighbouring ports in Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao. Inside the spacious concourse, the route to the Departure Hall on the second floor is well marked.
The hall itself has a manned ticket office and vending machines. After purchasing my ticket, I proceeded directly to Cathay’s check-in counter on the same floor (look for the ‘HKIA’ signpost written in Simplified Chinese and English).
I was all too happy to drop off my heavy suitcase at the counter, knowing it would be checked in and transferred through to my flight destination. If you want to board breezily like me, confirm with your airline whether you can check in at Shekou. If the answer is yes, do it at least an hour in advance of the ferry trip.
As part of the boarding process, I went through security and a China customs check. The whole process from arriving at the terminal to boarding the ferry took no longer than 30 minutes. (Only passengers holding a confirmed and valid same-day flight ticket may board the ferry.)
Another 30 minutes later, after a smooth ferry ride, I made it to Hong Kong Skypier at the airport. Since I’d already checked in at Shekou, I was able to bypass the counter here. Instead, a Cathay ground attendant pointed me toward the Air Passenger Departure Tax (APDT) refund counter: passengers arriving by ferry who head for onward departure in Hong Kong are eligible for a HK$120 refund. Afterward, the Automated People Mover brings you to the airport departures hall.
Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers can purchase sea-to-air passes online. The pass includes a round-trip ferry ticket between seven major ports in China’s Greater Bay Area and HKIA, plus a round-trip flight ticket to fly from Hong Kong. It is APDT free so there is no need to queue up for refund.
Keep in mind that you’re required to check in at Shekou Cruise & Ferry Terminal at least 180 minutes before flight departure – or, if waiting to check in at Hong Kong Skypier, at least 120 minutes before flight departure.
How to Travel by High-Speed Train to HKIA
The high-speed train service linking Shenzhen North Station and Hong Kong’s West Kowloon station debuted in 2018. It has cut the travel time down to about 25 minutes (or 15 minutes if departing from Shenzhen Futian Station), but for those continuing on to catch a flight, it’s necessary to change to the dedicated Airport Express train on to HKIA. Here’s how my experience went.
I pre-booked a high-speed train ticket on the 12306 China Railway website, which enabled me to go straight to the service window at Shenzhen North Station to collect my ticket. You can also make purchase on the spot from a manned ticket booth, but prepare for a queue, or from an automated machine.
I was pleased to discover there’s a dedicated window for trips to and from Hong Kong West Kowloon. Having collected my ticket, I made my way past restaurants and shops in the course to reach the security inspection.
I made it, as instructed, to the boarding platform 15 minutes before departure – success!
I entered the sleek train cabin and settled into my seat, in a tidy second-class compartment, which was very comfortable for the approximately 20-minute ride to Hong Kong. (First class seats are also available.)
In a clever design twist, the orientation of seats is adjustable, meaning anyone can face in the direction of travel, which helps if you’re prone to motion sickness. There are also electrical outlets to help keep gadgets charged on the go. And if your bag is too heavy or large for the overhead shelves, there’s a rack available in between compartments.
Be sure to keep your high-speed train ticket handy as you’ll need it to enter Hong Kong at West Kowloon Station. After border control at the China side, I reached the flight check-in counter on Level B2.
Travellers flying Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon can check in here four hours before departure, with a HK$80 baggage delivery fee per piece.
After immigration on the Hong Kong side, I followed the signs to Kowloon Station, the closest stop on the Airport Express train line.
Alternatively, instead of walking you can take advantage of the free shuttle bus service – an easy five-minute ride. Tip: download the MTR Mobile app to get real-time updates on the bus schedule.
At Kowloon Station, you’ll see an Airport Express ticket booth and a Cathay Pacific check-in counter, where you can check in bags up to 120 minutes in advance of your flight.
With my hands free at last, I continued to Level 2 to board the Airport Express. Thirty minutes later, I arrived at Hong Kong International Airport.
It was generally a smooth and well-signposted trip from Shenzhen North Station to West Kowloon Station and on to the airport, but it does take some effort – especially if you’re carrying bulky baggage as you can only drop it off at the check-in counters once you reach Hong Kong.
Of the two options, I’d recommend the Shekou ferry as the best way to reach Hong Kong International Airport. The travel time is shorter than the high-speed rail journey – which requires a transfer to the Airport Express train – and the ferry terminal provides the convenience of baggage drop-off services.
Psst! Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon passengers in premium economy, business or first class may be eligible for free cross-boundary shuttle or private car service; find out more here.
Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport vs Hong Kong International Airport
While Shenzhen does have its own international airport, a quick by-the-numbers comparison reveals why it often benefits mainland Chinese travellers to fly out of HKIA instead. Greater flight frequencies, for instance, provide a valuable convenience, allowing travellers to choose a flight that best suits their schedule and providing the peace of mind that in the off chance a flight is disrupted, they can easily and quickly be on another one.
Annual passenger traffic:
SZX: 45,000,000 vs HKIA: 72,900,000
Number of destinations served:
SZX: 50 vs HKIA: 220
Frequency of flights to London:
SZX: 3x weekly vs HKIA: 8x to 10x daily