United links to Hangzhou next month

Updated: 2016-06-03 12:19

By AMY HE in New York(chinadaily.com.cn)

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United links to Hangzhou next month

A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner touches down at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, in this April 11, 2015, file photo. [Photo/Agencies]

United Airlines sees potential for US-China flight routes between American cities and Tier 2 cities in China, said a United executive as the carrier gets ready to launch its latest route between San Francisco and Hangzhou in July, two months after it began operating new San Francisco-Xi'an flights.

"Every market is important for us to fly in," said Dave Hilfman, senior vice-president of worldwide sales at United. "We know the importance of Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong, which see a great volume of fliers. But in those secondary cities, there aren't any carriers with non-stop service to the US, so it's a great first-mover advantage."

Xi'an and Hangzhou are two examples of the growing markets United is interested in expanding into, providing service both for corporate passengers and leisure travelers, he said.

"We hear from corporate clients all the time: Business is critically important to them in China, and they're trying to penetrate different regions, and certainly beyond the great cities we know -- Beijing and Shanghai -- which already has pretty significant service," he told China Daily in an interview on Thursday at a United event unveiling the airlines' new business class services.

"The chance that we're starting in some new markets that are already big and growing makes perfect sense in what is already the largest trans-Pacific network of any of the global carriers," he said.

United is taking advantage of its hub in San Francisco, one of the major entry cities in the US for passengers coming from or leaving for China. Hilfman said the San Francisco hub is crucial because it sees traffic from Latin America and North America.

"That's the exciting thing for us. It makes great business sense and it's perfectly in line with our network strategy, where you already have a great position and you're making it that much stronger," he said.

The new flights will employ the new Boeing 787s, which can seat up to 219 passengers. The planes are smaller but are built for long-range flights and are fuel efficient, making them a profitable choice for the airline, Hilfman added.

The airline introduced a San Francisco-Chengdu route in 2014, and with many more leisure travelers originating from Chengdu than expected, it introduced an additional flight in 2015.

"Asia in general is a strength for United -- it does have the best Asian hub in San Francisco," said Seth Kaplan, aviation expert and managing partner of Airline Weekly. "They have a dominant position in San Francisco in a way that nobody has."

Bob Mann, principal of airline consultant R.W. Mann and Company, said that the "attractive economics" of the Boeing 787 allow United to fly routes that may previously have been less appealing to operate.

"US airlines are engaging in investment spending by operating Boeing 787 nonstops to medium and smaller Chinese markets, to secure greater position in the long-run," he said.

Contact the writer at amyhe@chinadailyusa.com.