June 12--With shrimp dumplings, calligraphy and lion dancers, American Airlines launched its first flights from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to Hong Kong and Shanghai on Wednesday.
The routes are significant for the Fort Worth-based carrier, which has a smaller presence in Asia than United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, said Doug Parker, American's chief executive.
"They're investments. It is an extremely important part of the globe, and we're a global carrier," Parker said. "It's an area that is strategically important for us."
Several local officials and dignitaries from China attended the send-offs for both flights. The Shanghai flight departed at 10:55 a.m., and the Hong Kong flight at 12:45 p.m.
Qiangmin Li, China's consul general in Houston, congratulated the airline and DFW on the new routes, saying they will help promote business between the regions.
"China has become the No. 1 trading partner with DFW," Li said.
Passengers on the inaugural flight to Hong Kong, which included Pier 1 Imports CEO Alex Smith, received gift bags from the airline and the airport that included a USB travel converter kit and 500 additional frequent-flier miles. Pier 1 gave passengers gift cards for its stores, where half the products are made in China.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the flights will connect Chinese travelers through DFW who may be headed to Brazil for the World Cup or the Olympics.
"We know this flight is going to be full. It's a great market," Price said. "International connections are the way to grow our region and the way to grow our airport."
Bryce and Jane Sanders were connecting to the Hong Kong flight, having arrived from Philadelphia on an early morning flight. Bryce Sanders, an executive platinum AAdvantage member, used his frequent-flier miles to upgrade into business class on the 777-300ER that American is using on the route.
"When we learned American was going to add flights to Hong Kong, we were excited," he said. "We've always wanted to go to Hong Kong."
The couple purposefully booked the inaugural flight and will spend a few days on vacation in Hong Kong before taking the return flight Monday.
DFW almost got direct flights to China in 2006 when American applied for routes to Shanghai. However, the airline withdrew its application when it couldn't reach an agreement with its pilots to staff the 16-hour-plus flight.
"Throughout the 40-year history of the airport, passenger airline service to Asia has been a major strategic goal," DFW Chief Executive Sean Donohue said. "We not only have a direct link to one of the top financial centers, but you also have two of the world's finest airports on each end of the route."
American has offered flights to China from its Chicago hub since 2006 and Los Angeles since 2011. At DFW, American operates routes to Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea.
"Our current Asia routes have not been profitable over time as of yet. We hope they will be over time," Parker said.
Hong Kong and Shanghai could be just the start of direct flights to China from DFW.
Experts say that as China grows, so does demand for air service to its cities.
China has 165 cities with more than a million people, and 85 to 90 percent of the population lives within 400 miles of the eastern coast, said David Mack, assistant dean of the University of Texas at Arlington's business school.
On Monday, United launched flights from San Francisco to Chengdu, a city with over 14 million people in southwest China.
"We're starting to see more direct flights to some of these other cities because there is still quite a bit of growth," Mack said. "They've got this middle class they've built, and those people have money to spend."
Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631 Twitter: @Sky_Talk
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