A new direct flight between San Francisco and China's Xi'an launched on Sunday, linking Silicon Valley and the Silk Road.
The seasonal service will be operated by United Airlines (UA) with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, three times a week during the peak travel period from May 8 to Oct 27.
"We now connect for the first time ever Silicon Valley with Xi'an, the eastern part of the Silk Road," said Marcel Fuchs, UA's vice president of Atlantic and Pacific sales, at the launch ceremony at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
The flights will depart SFO at 1:25 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and arrive in Xi'an at 5:30 pm the following days. The return flights will depart Xi'an's Xianyang International Airport at 9:30 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and arrive in San Francisco at 6:35 am the same days. Flying times will be approximately 13 hours and 5 minutes westbound, and 12 hours and five minutes eastbound.
"After Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, we are so pleased to be adding Xi'an as our fourth destination in Chinese mainland," said Fuchs. Two years ago, UA launched a San Francisco-Chengdu route, the first time that a US airline flew beyond Beijing and Shanghai, Fuchs said.
According to Ivar Satero, deputy airport director of SFO, the new direct route between San Francisco and Xi'an represents three firsts – the flight is the first trans-Pacific flight to Xi'an, UA will be the first US airline to serve the Chinese city, and SFO will be the first airport in the US to serve Xi'an with a direct flight.
UA began nonstop service to China in 1986 and it currently has 96 weekly departures serving Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Hong Kong.
It will begin new nonstop service between San Francisco and Hangzhou, capital of China's Zhejiang province, on July 13.
"The presidents of China and the United States declared 2016 as the year of tourism. In fact, we are expecting more than 3 million Chinese tourists to arrive," said Fuchs. "United Airlines will provide more service and more seats to China than anybody else. I'm convinced we'll see many more Chinese visitors coming to San Francisco."
Last year, 2.1 million US tourists visited China, and 2.7 million Chinese traveled to the US, which means 13,000 people flying between the two countries every day, said Luo Linquan, Chinese consul general in San Francisco. Thanks to the China-US Tourism Year, more than 5 million tourists are expected to travel between the two countries this year, he said.
Luo told the guests at the ceremony that San Francisco is a unique hub for world travelers and especially for those who travel to and from China. "With around 1 million Chinese Americans living in the Bay Area, the demand for traveling between San Francisco and China is high and sustainable," he said. "I believe this new service will greatly promote our bilateral communication not only in tourism, but also in economy, trade, investment, education and culture."
With a population of more than 8 million, Xi'an is an important cultural, economic and educational center with facilities for research and development and China's space exploration program. The plains surrounding Xi'an are home to the famed Terracotta Warriors, thousands of life-size, hand-molded figures buried with China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.