The routes are investments for the Fort Worth-based carrier which has a minimal presence in Asia compared to other U.S. airlines like United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, said American chief executive Doug Parker.
"They’re investments, it is an extremely important part of the globe and we’re a global carrier and it’s an area that is strategically important for us," Parker said.
Several local officials and dignitaries from China attended the send-offs for both flights. The Shanghai flight departed at 10:55 a.m. while the Hong Kong flight left at 12:45 p.m.
Qiangmin Li, China’s consul general in Houston, congratulated the airline and DFW for its new routes, saying that it will help promote business between the two regions of the world.
"China has become the number one trading partner with DFW," Li said.
Passengers on the inaugural flight to Hong Kong, which included Pier 1 Imports chief executive 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 also gave passengers gift cards for its stores where half of their products come from China.
"We know this flight is going to be full, it’s a great market," Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price said. "International connections are the way to grow our region and the way to grow our airport."
Bryce and Jane Sanders connected on to the Hong Kong flight, arriving from Philadelphia on an early morning flight. Bryce Sanders, who is an executive platinum AAdvantage member, used his miles to upgrade into business class on the 777-300ER American is using on the route.
“When we learned American was going to add flights to Hong Kong, we were excited,” Bryce Sanders said. “We’ve always wanted to go to Hong Kong.”
The couple purposely booked to take the inaugural flight and will be spending only a few days for vacation in Hong Kong before taking the return flight on Monday.
DFW Airport almost got flights to China in 2006 when American had applied for routes to Shanghai. However, the airline withdrew its application as it was unable to 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," said DFW Airport chief executive Sean Donohue. "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 Airport, American operates routes to Tokyo and Seoul.
"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 continues to grow, so does the demand for air service to its cities. There are 165 cities in China that have over a million people and most of the population, about 85 to 90 percent, live within 400 miles of the eastern coast, said David Mack, assistant dean of University of Texas at Arlington’s business school.
On Monday, United Airlines launched flights from San Francisco to Chengdu, a city with over 14 million people in the southwestern portion of 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."
Photos by Star-Telegram photographer Rodger Mallison.