Air India today launched its first non-stop flight to San Francisco which landed here connecting America's west coast with India and making Silicon Valley its fourth destination in the US.
The flight AI 173 from Delhi with 230 passengers on board landed here at 5:40 AM with airport traffic control tower lit in the Indian tricolour to welcome the maiden Air India flight to the city. The passengers applauded when the aircraft touched down.
A number of officials from the US and India, including Indian Consul General Venkatesan Ashok, 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 US west coast.
Air India has started three flights per week -- on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Silicon Valley in September had announced to connect 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 officials," an Air India official said.
Abhinav Kuru, an IT professional from Hyderabad, said the new flight will save 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 in Business Class and 195 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 7:30 AM for the first flight but we opened it today at 5:30 AM to receive passengers 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.
Air India operates daily non-stop flights to Chicago and New York (from New Delhi) and Newark (from Mumbai).
Starting from Bengaluru, the flight will travel non-stop from Delhi to San Francisco and passengers travelling to San Francisco will undergo customs and immigration formalities at Bengaluru airport for their onward journey.
San Francisco offers non-stop flights to more than 39 international destinations on 33 international carriers. The Bay Area's largest airport connects non-stop with 77 cities in the US on 13 domestic airlines.
"I am pleased to welcome Air India to San Francisco - the
Innovation Capital of the World," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in his welcome remarks.
"By creating the first-ever nonstop service between San Francisco and Delhi, Air India has united two great cultural and economic centres of the world. As the only nonstop flight between India and the west coast of the United States, I fully expect this new service to be a success," he said.
"I am excited that Air India has selected SFO for their newest route in the United States," said Airport Director John L Martin.
"This service firmly establishes our airport as the premier gateway to Asia and the subcontinent, and provides an unparallelled level of global access to our guests," he added.
According to a media release, the flight to Delhi, AI-174, has received an overwhelming response with a booking of 95 per cent within its initial days of opening of bookings.
The flight from Delhi landed at San Francisco with a full complement of passengers on board.
"One of the longest flights in the world, this new flight is a boon to the Indian diaspora on the US west coast. It will make travel easy and convenient for students, non-resident Indians and their kin, and business travellers looking for direct options," San Francisco airport said in a press release.