United Airlines San Francisco-Chengdu Inaugural Flight – Review
Dreamliner Opens Up New Links Between Continents
There are launch flights and there are launch flights. Some take place when an airline begins flying a route that is new to it but that others already operate or have previously serviced. Others are for a new aircraft type. In today’s age, however, it’s rare for an airline to launch a new route that no other carrier has ever flown before.
Such is the case with United Airlines and its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner service to Chengdu, China. United first announced that it applied to the U.S. Department of Transportation for authority to offer non-stop service to Chengdu last August.
United operates this flight from its San Francisco hub, a city that is the country’s premier gateway to Asia. With Chengdu, United now offers nine destinations in Asia from SFO, and its hub offers about 300 daily departures to 73 domestic destinations and 21 international destinations. Indeed, the carrier has more destinations in Asia, as well as more non-stop flights to that continent, than any other U.S. airline offers from any other airport.
United’s dominance in the region goes back to its 1985 $750 million purchase of Pan American World Airways’ Pacific division. The sale included 18 jetliners and landing rights in 13 cities in Asia and the South Pacific. At the time of the deal, United only served Tokyo and Hong Kong, and those destinations only from Seattle. With the Pan Am acquisition in place, United quickly added flights from gateways in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, to Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand.
Boarding was a festive occasion. As I approached the gate area, a stage and tables of food were awaiting. About two hours prior to departure, passengers were treated to a performance of bian lian, or face changing, by a local performer, Dan Chan. The 300-year-old art of bian lian comes from the Sichuan opera and involves the use of vividly colored masks that depict well-known characters, which the performer can change instantaneously during the performance.
Bian lian is rarely seen in the United States, as it is traditionally only taught and passed down from father to son.
The celebration continued with welcoming remarks from United Airlines executives, the mayor of San Francisco, and the consul general of the People’s Republic of China.