What’s better than one inaugural flight? Two, of course. Recently, Hainan Airlines started service from Shanghai (PVG) to Seattle (SEA) using an Airbus A330-200, and also Beijing to San Jose (SJC) using a Boeing 787-8. We had writers at both events to cover the occasion. It might be the same airline, but each of the inaugurals were unique.
We are going to give you the run down of both inaugurals in one story, leading with Lauren, who was in Seattle, and then Michael, who was in San Jose. Both tell it from their own personal perspective — what was it like for them to attend their first inaugural flight media event?
SEATTLE by Lauren Darnielle. I was excited to attend the event celebrating Hainan Airlines’ inaugural service from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA, or Sea-Tac) to Shanghai, China on June 22nd.
The new service is the airline’s first non-stop flight to Shanghai from the U.S. west coast, but Hainan also currently services Sea-Tac Airport via Beijing four times weekly. The service between Beijing and Seattle was the airline’s first destination in the United States, so the Port of Seattle was pleased to celebrate another milestone.
Part of the event was making sure to get all the media through security; it was a bit like herding cats — but we made it with time to spare! When we arrived at gate S1, the entertainment had already started, courtesy of the Chinese Arts & Music Association. It created a very festive atmosphere, and I’m sure it’s the only time I’ve heard “America the Beautiful” played on traditional Chinese instruments.
After some mingling and refreshments, Sea-Tac Airport Operations Director Mike Ehl started off the program with a welcome, followed by remarks from Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton, Washington State China Relations Council Executive Director Kristi Heim, and Hainan Airlines General Manager Yi Hu. In addition to praising Hainan’s customer service, Commissioner Creighton noted their environmental efforts, in the form of testing aviation biofuels domestically in China, and shared his hope that someday they will operate the first biofuel-powered commercial flight across the Pacific to Seattle.
Most of the remarks focused on the close economic ties between China and the State of Washington. China is the state’s biggest trading partner, with $30 billion in two-way trade last year. On the aviation front in particular, Ms. Heim highlighted the 30 new 787-9 Dreamliners that Hainan Airlines has on order with Boeing.
In terms of overall impact, every new international flight to Seattle brings with it an estimated $75 million in economic activity to the region, according to the Port of Seattle. Economically, adding more service to the United States makes sense for China, too. China represents the fastest growing market for travel to the U.S., and Chinese visitors have accounted for 20 percent of the growth in overseas travel to the U.S. since 2008. In the future, this will only be enhanced by the new reciprocal ten-year visas between the two countries.
After the speakers, it was time to cut the cake! They prepared two large sheet cakes for the occasion, which was more than enough for the assembled media and guests. Fortunately, plenty of passengers were there to help, too.
They gave everyone a bit of time to enjoy their cake before our hands needed to be free again to capture the official ribbon cutting! That was the end of the formal ceremony, but everyone continued to mingle waiting for the flight to head back to China.
After the group photos, the crew boarded the aircraft and it was back to business as usual at gate S1. Even though the event was brief, I enjoyed it. I thought the speeches were interesting (being the economics nerd that I am), and who wouldn’t like to start off the week with some lovely music and delicious cake?
SAN JOSE by Micheal Restivo.
Do you know the way to San Jose? Well, Hainan Airlines certainly does, as it began its exciting new non-stop service between Norman Mineta International Airport (SJC) and Beijing, China on June 15th. The airline now flies five times a week aboard the beautiful Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. This is a long-awaited service to my home airport. The folks at SJC have been working hard to promote growth and new services from its new and recently-modernized terminals (completed in 2010). The addition of this new service certainly shows the possibilites new aircraft, like the 787, can bring when drawn to a convenient and modern airport.
I’ve lived all my life in San Jose and have watched the airport change and grow so much, with many airlines coming and going through the years. With the arrival of Hainan, and the continuing service from ANA introduced a few years back, San Jose’s airport is no longer in the shadow of its Bay Area counterparts when it comes to international service. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the inaugural festivities for the newest service addition.
My excitement started the moment I arrived at Terminal B press check in at 10am. I was greeted by two lovely ladies who verified my identification and handed me a lanyard with a press pass and press kit detailing the event schedule/speakers. I headed up through security and to the festivities, located at gate 18; by the time I got there, people were starting to gather as the flight was scheduled to arrive at 11:30am.
Gate 18 was decorated with inaugural banners from Hainan Airlines and a panda bear made out of balloons to greet passengers, along with a stage area with a banner and ribbon just waiting to be cut. The airport went all-out with the festivities by having a string quartet playing Chinese music in the lobby. There was a large table set up with beverages, dim sum, pot stickers, and fortune cookies. The inaugural festivities certainly brought excitement to Terminal B as other passengers and airport personnel began to congregate in the area as the crowd anxiously awaited the arrival of the 787.
As press lined up against the windows that look onto the airfield, my anticipation was increased as one of them had his scanner programmed to the tower, listening to the 787 as it approached the field.
At 11:30am, Hainan flight 7989 touched down onto Runway 30L, bringing a game-changing flight to San Jose Airport. The aircraft made its way to Gate 18, where it was greeted with a water cannon salute. The crowd began to clap and cheer as I shouted, “Yay San Jose!” I felt a sense of pride to see this and to witness my little home airport all grown up with two 787s, as ANA from Tokyo was parked at Gate 15 — what an incredible sight to witness. I would never have thought I would see this when I was a child spotting on the old observation deck of now-gone Terminal C. As passengers began to disembark, I made my way to the press podium. The speakers would be addressing us with the introductions and speeches.
There were speeches by Sam Liccardo, Mayor of San Jose, Matthew Manhood, President of Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mu Weigang, Vice Chairman Hainan Airlines, and Kim Becker, Director of Aviation for San Jose. They all spoke of the excitement and hard work to get the new service between San Jose and China, and its importance to tech businesses in the valley and China.
Their speeches were followed with gift exchanges and the breaking of one of the largest fortune cookies made. All of the speakers made their way over for the ribbon cutting ceremony and, with that, we welcome Hainan Airlines to San Jose, CA. It was an exciting moment, as I have seen these performed in the past on television, but to be there in person and see history in the making was truly awesome and memorable. Although I am not an airport employee (I wish), I felt a sense of pride for my city and my airport to be receiving a great airline and an important destination.
The crew arrived into the gate area all proudly wearing their uniforms. I can only imagine how they must have felt, as we all looked at them as celebrities.
Once the crew was aboard, passengers followed about twenty minutes later. The 1:30 pm departure time was not going to be met, as the speeches took longer than anticipated. With passengers ready to go, the press was granted access onto the ramp to see the departure up close and personal – rock on!
As I made my way to out to the tarmac, the curved lines of the beautiful 787 could be seen better. Soon, the aircraft pushed back from the gate and the ground crew waved goodbye to the lucky passengers.
At approximately 2:15pm, Hainan flight 7990 rotated from runway 30R into the skies on her way to Beijing. The new service not only brings a new choice for travelers, but also the new vision for my home airport, one that I am excited to see continue to grow into the future.
— Michael Restivo