United Airlines will launch its first direct route from the United States to western China on June 11, linking San Francisco and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.
Walter Dias, the airlines' managing director for Greater China and Korea, announced the direct route in Chengdu on Thursday, two days after British Airways increased its weekly flights to and from Chengdu.
United will offer three flights to Chengdu every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and from Chengdu every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The flight time is about 14 hours and a Boeing 787-8 will operate on the route.
"United Airlines will be the first to offer a direct route service between central and western China and the United States," Dias said. The company already offers direct flight services to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei.
After arriving in San Francisco, passengers can easily transfer to other cities across America. "United Airlines alone has over 300 flights starting from San Francisco every day," Dias said.
"Chengdu is a key hub in China's western region, while San Francisco is America's premier gateway to the Pacific. There lies great market potential to open the direct route."
Dias also said Chengdu has gathered more than half of the Fortune Global 500 companies, of which many are major clients of United Airlines.
Home to the giant pandas and Sichuan cuisine, the city is rich in tourism resources as well. "Every one of our 85,000 employees around the world is excited about the Chengdu service," Dias said.
Compared with the front-tier cities in China, many Americans don't know about Chengdu, but Dias said the airlines will invest a great deal of money to promote the route. "It will be an easy sell, for Chengdu is such a fantastic city," he said.
Chen Zhongwei, director of Chengdu's logistics office, said the direct route will serve as an important bridge for the economic and cultural exchange between western China and the United States. "Chengdu is becoming an international city and we look forward to win-win cooperation with foreign airlines," he said.