Nonstop route links Chengdu and San Francisco

Updated: 2014-06-11 21:04

By LI YU and PENG CHAO in Chengdu (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Nonstop 14-hour flights have been launched between San Francisco and southwestern regional hub Chengdu by United Airlines.

The carrier offers three flights to Chengdu on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and three from Chengdu on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Operated by a Boeing 787-8, the maiden flight from San Francisco carrying 219 passengers landed at Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport on Tuesday evening.

Jake Cefolia, United's Atlantic and Pacific sales vice-president, who was on the flight, said he was very excited about the opening of the new route because Chengdu is a city with unique attractions.

"We had been evaluating it for more than five years and we finally picked it out from so many competing cities because of its rich business opportunities and tourism resources," he said.

Cefolia said more than half of the Fortune 500 companies had a presence in the city — many of them partners of United — and they had asked for a nonstop route to Chengdu. United's research also shows that the city is a gateway to a market of 200 million people.

The growing fascination for China among people in the United States had also increased the need for a nonstop service. "Americans are becoming more interested in Chinese culture, history and food and Chengdu is the right city to visit," Cefolia said.

The US is attracting more Chinese as well. More than 1.8 million Chinese visited the country in 2013, a 23 percent year-on-year rise, according to the US Consulate in Chengdu.

Zeng Yunqi, a 60-year-old Chengdu resident, said he and his wife had waited years for the nonstop flight. "We love to travel abroad, but we don't like connecting flights," he said. They were taking the return flight on Wednesday morning to visit US cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Walter Dias, the airline's managing director in China and Korea, said the maiden flight and return flight had been full. Passenger loads on the new route from June to August are expected to be the highest among the airline's 13 nonstop flights linking China to the US.

Chen Zhongwei, director of Chengdu's logistics office, said he had not expected the nonstop route to be so popular.

"United and ourselves thought in the beginning that it may take time for the market to grow, as Chengdu is a second-tier inland city, but the result has turned out unprecedentedly well."

Chen said he would take the return flight to the US with other government officials to seek opportunities for United Airlines to add more flights on the route and to open new nonstop routes to other US cities.

As China's fourth largest air hub, Chengdu has 33 regular international direct routes. The local authorities are also planning new direct routes to destinations including Istanbul, Moscow and Paris.

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport handled 33.4 million passengers last year.

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