SAN FRANCISCO: Air India’s first non-stop flight from New Delhi to San Francisco has landed here amid rousing welcome, becoming the first Indian airline to provide a direct air connection to the West Coast in the US.
The Air India flight AI 173, a B777-200LR aircraft, with 230 passengers on board landed here at 5.40am on Wednesday with airport traffic control tower lit in Indian tricolor to welcome the flight to the city.
The passengers applauded when the aircraft touched the ground.
A number of officials from the US and India, including Venkatesan Ashok, Consul General of India, attended a formal ribbon cutting ceremony to mark beginning of the services.
“It is a remarkable day and today is a great day for Air India” Ashok told the gathering at the airport.
The city mayor’s office declared this day as ‘Air India Day’, a symbolic gesture to celebrate the arrival of the first direct flight from India here.
With this non-stop flight to San Francisco from Delhi, Air India became the first domestic airline to provide a direct air connection to the West Coast.
Air India has started three flights per week – on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the Silicon Valley in September had announced to connect the Silicon Valley with India through a direct flight.
“Starting a direct flight within two months was a daunting task but we made it possible with the cooperation from US official,” an Air India official said.
Abhinav Kuru, an IT professional from Hyderabad, said the new flight will save the time as people earlier used to go to Chicago to take a flight to India.
“This direct flight has reduced the travel time by 5-6 hours. Earlier it used to take about 23 hours but with this flight it is just 17 hours,” said Kuru, one of the passengers.
The flight offers a 3-cabin configuration, with 8 seats in First Class, 35 seats in Business Class and 195 seats in Economy Class.
A US security official at the airport said that the Air India flight was the first flight of the day and extra arrangements were made to receive the passengers.
“The airport immigration office opens at 7.30am for the first flight but we opened it today at 5.30am to receive passenger from India,” the official said.
Earlier, a special cake was cut just before departure at the Delhi airport to celebrate the launch of the maiden flight and passengers were presented with a rose bud each at the time of check-in.
The national carrier had also hosted a contest on micro-blogging website Twitter prior to the launch of its new flight to the US.