Flight From Shanghai to U.S.

This is part of a series article: From Shanghai to US – A Handbook. These articles are to help my friends (obviously in Shanghai) to plan their first time visit to U.S. To be concise, I only outline information that I think helpful for this group of people. So don’t be surprised if it left some important information outside the scope.

To go to U.S. from Shanghai, there are not too much choices of flight. If you visit San Francisco, there is actually only one flight: UA858 (status) you may take. Most U.S. company including Microsoft and eBay choose this flight. Here is the schedule:

United Airlines

12:45 pm Depart Shanghai (PVG)

Arrive San Francisco (SFO) 8:53 am (next day)

Duration: 10hr 47mn


According to the PVG (Pudong Airport Policy), the international check-in opens 2 hours before the flight (that is 10:45 AM), and closes 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time (that is 12:00)

According to my experience, before 10:45 AM, many people already lined up at the check-in counter, with big baggages. The line should already wind around the counter, with at least 100+ people. Most of the passengers are either first time visitors (like parents visiting children in U.S.) or returning residence with big luggage.

If you are the first time visitor, I suggest you to get to the airport as early as possible. The excitement of travel well compensate the 1 hour of waiting. If you arrive on time, you will be surprised, and worried whether you will be late to your flight (actually, you will never be late…)

If you have visited many times, and just have a small bag with you, you can go there as late as 11:30 AM, when the line is short, and all the other passengers completed their checkin process.

The custom inspection may take time too. Pudong Airport has already been a busy port. The 10 – 20 inspection counter still cannot handle the passengers in rush hours.


If you go earlier enough or you call United Airlines one day before, you can choose your seat. I would recommend you to take a window seat, since the scene outside flight window attracts me most.

UA858 is a Boeing 747-400 plane. If you can, choose the seat numbered with A, like 41A, 42A… Never choose row 32 to 40 – they are just above the wings of the aircraft, and you can see almost nothing. 46A to 46K have extra spaces (they are the emergency exit). The view is bad, but you can relax your legs.

The reason I suggests the left side window against the right side is, you will be able to see Mount Fujisan in Japan (35.36 N 138.73 E) within one hour. There are a lot of mountains and ports to see when the flight is about Japan.

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang, Nov 10, 2002

UA858 does not stop at NRT (Tokyo Narita Airport), but it flys by.

What to Do on the Flight

The flight is long, but it is still OK – just 10 hours and 47 minute. The flight sometimes arrives several minutes to 20 minutes earlier than scheduled.

I suggest you after the flight leaves Japan, try to fall asleep ASAP. Scene outside window will be completely the same – the pacific ocean, clouds or darkness. You won’t miss anything. Don’t watch the on-flight movie, or browse on-flight magazine for too long. You will experience serious jet lag in SFO if you don’t sleep well. The eyes cover helps me a lot.

The screen will help you to figure out where you are

At around morning the next day (or the same day according to your calendar), you will arrive at San Francisco Airport


Here are some reports I accumulated in the previous years of travelling between SFO and PVG.


UA858 Photo Galary

SFO – San Francisco Airport

When UA858 arrives, there are English, Chinese and Japanese language welcoming you, and it is easy to get to the lugage claim area, like this:

14 thoughts on “Flight From Shanghai to U.S.

  1. Very good insight as usual…I am suprised that there is only 1 flight from SH to SF

  2. For travel to the East Coast, NY in particular. I choose Air China over UA anytime, both speed and services. hard to believe a Chinese airlines beat an american hands down? believe me, brand new plane w/ individual tv monitor compare to the super cram seat of UA, better food and service. Time wise, the BJ-NY route cut across Siberia and only takes 15 hrs, compare to UA stop over in SF for the “full-cavaity” security search then wait 2 hrs to board on a 7 hrs flight to NY. The only down side is the leg from SH to BJ, I have *never* experienced an on-time flight in domestic china. I keep wondering why there isn’t a direct flight between the 2 financial capitals, what are these airlines exec thinking? they only concern making the most profit by dumping passengers in their so-called hub like Chicago, no wonder they’re all heading to bankrupcy, ok sorry that’s a different topic.

  3. Good article Wang Jian Shuo. And good comments too. Yup, there is direct flight from ORD (Chicago O’Hare) to PVG (Shanghai Pudong) now, courtesy of American Airlines.

    One thing I want to add is after the novelty of traveling overseas on a big plane wears off, take the aisle seat. You get more freedom to move about and leg room also.

  4. A comment on my comment:

    If I fly to any place that I have never been before, I still like the window seat. Sometimes the excitement of getting a good aerial view of the new city is worth the hassle.

    On my trip to Barcelona in February I transferred at Madrid. So on the leg from Chicago to Madrid, I picked the aisle seat, since it is the longer part of the trip over the Atlantic. I had a good rest on the plane (actually a lot of reading). From Madrid to Barcelona, I took the window seat. I got a fairly good aerial views of both Madrid and Barcelona, and the flight was short. That, to me, is the best of both worlds :)

  5. Speaking of huge airliners…there are rumors that the new Airbus A380 can be configured to hold 850 passengers. Instead of seats, you’ll be strapped into a vertical board….

    It’ll be like going on a roller coaster for 12 hours, and get served food while on it.

  6. would it be more complete to mention those custom forms need to fill on the air? that would be helpful for those first-time visitors

  7. Regarding UA858, should it arrive at SFO on the SAME day (actually several hours earlier than) it departures from PVG?

  8. ANA is not a bad option for NYC. I just flied with ANA/UA from Shanghai PV to NYC JFK via Tokyo Narita yesterday. The fair is about RMB5,600, excluding tax. Service is good. No delay all the way.

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