Hainan Airlines launches Seattle-Shanghai service

To the accompaniment of a string quartet playing traditional Chinese melodies as well as a rendition of “God Bless America,” dignitaries from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the Port of Seattle, the Washington State China Relations Council and Hainan Airlines celebrated Hainan’s inaugural non-stop flight from Seattle (SEA) to Shanghai, China June 22.

Logo Airline“Seattle is the closest North American gateway to China and the rest of Asia, so this represents incredible opportunity for us for the economy of this region,” Michael Ehl, the director of airport operations at SEA, said in opening remarks.

The flight, which will operate four times weekly, is one of several new international long-haul flights flights that will serve SEA this year, to the benefit of the greater Puget Sound area.

Port Commissioner Creighton
“We estimate that every international flight brings in about $75 million a year to our local economy in terms of economic impact [along with] 1,400 jobs to the region,” John Creighton, Port of Seattle commissioner, said.

The general manager of Hainan’s International Business Center said the expansion of service between Seattle and China was requested by the airline’s customers.

“[The new service is] another important milestone for my company, and for the Seattle-China relationship,” Xiang Lee said, calling the new service “a major step” for his airline.

The launch of service to Shanghai comes on the heels of the introduction of two additional routes. Non-stop service from San Jose, California (SJC) to Beijing (PEK) commenced June 15, and service from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) to Shandhai Pudong International Airport (PVG) began June 20.

Along with the new service from SEA, those flights represent the doubling of service between U.S. cities and China, Lee said, noting that the flights will not only result in more business but also more visits between friends and relatives.

Hainan Flight 7956 departs SEA
Flight 7956 took off on time with a full complement of passengers as well as a significant amount of fresh Pacific Northwest cherries and geoduck clams, which are considered a delicacy in China, a Hainan spokesperson told TheTravelPro at the event.

The four weekly flights, aboard an Airbus A330, will depart SEA on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at noon, arriving in Shanghai at 4:30 p.m. the following day. Return flights are on the same days of the week, departing at 1:15 pm., arriving at SEA at 9:30 a.m. The new flights have scheduled flying times of 13 hours, 30 minutes westbound and 11 hours, 20 minutes eastbound. Shanghai service will augment non-stop service from SEA to Beijing, which was expanded from five times weekly to daily service on May 1.

Business Class excellence

Hainan holds mainland China's only 5-Star airline rating from the airline rating organization SKYTRAX, which has also given the airline accolades specific to its Business Class service. In the most recent annual SKYTRAX awards, Hainan was bestowed the honor of Best Business Class cabin and was cited for excellence in its Business class amenities. Read more about the 2014 SKYTRAX World Airline Awards here.

Seats aboard the airline’s A330s, the aircraft that are now in service on the SEA/PVG route, are among the more generous in the industry, according to SeatGuru.com. Its 32 flatbed Business Class seats are 21 inches wide with pitch of 64 or 74 inches, depending on the version of the aircraft. More impressive are its 19-inch-wide economy seats, though pitch is fairly standard at 31 to 32 inches.

For comparison, the economy seats aboard my 10+ hour flights between SEA and Frankfurt (FRA) in March were 17.5 inches wide. At a bit over six feet tall and slightly under 200 pounds, I found the seats and the legroom better than adequate, though not as comfy as Business Class. An extra 1.5 inches in seat width on flights that are more than 13 hours long would be most welcome indeed.

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Photos and video by Carl Dombek
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