American Takes on United Airlines with Service to Shanghai

While American Airlines kicked off its first nonstop service to China with dancers and dragons, things were much quieter at the United Airlines gate.

"This is a really big deal," said McDermott, who is president of the Southwest branch of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce. She was traveling to Shanghai to promote business relationships with North Texas companies.

"There is a real hunger among Asian-owned businesses to do business in China," she said. "It's an ideal market for many of them, because of its growth and their Asian background."

One Wall Street analyst who was on the flight called it a "no-brainer" for American.

"The trans-Pacific is one of the few markets where the business travelers are still really willing to pay for first class service," said the analyst, who asked not to be identified because he hasn't yet issued any financial reports on American's new service.

In Chicago, passengers heard speeches by representatives of the Chinese consulate and the mayor's office before they boarded.

"It is of great significance to businesses in both countries for American to begin flights between these two cities," said Ying Tun, deputy counsel general of the Chicago Chinese consulate.

The flight was made possible, in part, because of thousands of letters and e-mails submitted to the Department of Transportation by American employees, requesting the airline be granted the service.

The airline also enlisted Asian employees as it planned the flight, taking advantage of their knowledge of Asian culture, customs and food.

Attendant Mary Ng, a native of Singapore, was selected to work the flight because she speaks Mandarin.

"This is a great opportunity for me, and an opportunity to use my language skill," she said.

Caroline Womack, a veteran flight attendant, said she was proud to be on the flight crew of the inaugural trip. In her 40 years as an American attendant, she has worked many inaugural flights, including the airline's first nonstop service to Rome and Dublin.

She values the chance to explore foreign cities between flights.

"I'm going to retire one day and I want to see it all," she said.

The plane's first- and business-class cabins were full, and the coach section was nearly 90 percent full. Takeoff was delayed for a short time in Chicago because the heavy aircraft, loaded down with fuel, passengers and cargo, was required to take off from the airport's longest runway.

David Weinstein of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center was traveling to Shanghai to help explore business opportunities.

"From a business standpoint, most emerging businesses see enormous market opportunities in China," he said. "If you're not there, your competitors are certainly going to beat you to it."

But not everyone was traveling with business on their minds. John and Cindy Brunelli of Mansfield, Mass., were flying to Shanghai to watch the world swimming championship, which the city is hosting.

Their son, Nicholas, is competing for the United States team.

"This is the trip of a lifetime," John Brunelli said. "The fact that it's this special flight, with American making their first trip, well, that makes it even more special."


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