SAN FRANCISCO — Air India's first nonstop flight from New Delhi to San Francisco landed Dec. 2 with a rousing welcome, becoming the first Indian airline to provide a direct air connection to the West Coast in the United States, said a PTI report.

The Air India flight AI 173, a B777-200LR aircraft, with 230 passengers on board, landed at 5:40 a.m. Dec. 2 with the airport traffic control tower lit in the Indian tricolor to welcome the flight to the city.

The passengers applauded when the aircraft touched the ground.

A number of officials from the U.S. and India, including Consul General of India in San Francisco Venkatesan Ashok, attended a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the 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. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Mayor's office declared the day as “Air India Day.”

Air India will continue the direct flight services with three flights per week – on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to the Silicon Valley in September, had announced the intent 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 U.S. officials,” an Air India official said.

Abhinav Kuru, an IT professional from Hyderabad, said the new flight will save time, as people previously used to go through Chicago to take a flight to India.

“This direct flight has reduced the travel time by five to six hours,” Karu, one of the passengers, said. “Earlier, it used to take about 23 hours, but, with this flight, it is just 17 hours.”

The flight offers a three-cabin configuration, with eight seats in first class, 35 in business and 195 in economy.

A U.S. 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 official added that the airport’s immigration office opens at 7:30 a.m. but was opened early to receive the Air India passengers.

Prior to the departure of the flight from Delhi, a special cake was cut to celebrate the launch of the maiden flight. Each passenger was presented with a rose bud at the time of check-in.

Air India had also hosted a contest on the micro-blogging website Twitter prior to the launch of its new flight to the U.S.

IANS adds: The tri-weekly Bengaluru-to-San Francisco flight via Delhi will begin at Bengaluru at 9:15 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday on an Airbus A321 aircraft and arrive in Delhi at 11:45 p.m.

It will then leave Delhi for San Francisco on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 2:35 a.m. deploying a Boeing B777-200LR aircraft, Air India said. It will reach San Francisco at 7 a.m. on the same day and depart at 10:30 a.m. to reach Delhi the next day.

The flight will further depart for Bengaluru at 4:20 p.m., arriving in the Karnataka's capital at 5:45 p.m.

Air India is offering the facility of undergoing customs and immigration formalities for passengers at Bengaluru airport itself.

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