There’s a saying in China: “Even though a bird may be small, it still has wings to fly.”
Sophia Yi, an intern with Pittsburgh International Airport’s Air Service who hails from Chengdu, China, and is getting her MBA at Duquesne University, says the same is true of Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh is smaller than where I’m from, but it has many good characteristics,” she said. “It’s safe and peaceful, and there are a lot of opportunities.”
Yi’s impressions of Pittsburgh were echoed by more than 300 Chinese tourists, many visiting the U.S. for the first time, on the first-ever nonstop charter flights on China Eastern Airlines and Caissa Touristic that arrived on Aug. 3 and departed on Aug. 11.
Pittsburgh was the first and last stop on a week-long tour that included visits to the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie museums and other U.S. cities, including Niagara Falls and Washington, D.C.
The charter flights also made it possible for tourists like 90-year-old Sen Yang to visit family and attend his granddaughter’s wedding.
“If it wasn’t for this direct flight, it would not have been possible for him to come,” Yang’s granddaughter said. “We really appreciate this opportunity.”
Airport staff, along with partner agencies VisitPITTSBURGH and Idea Foundry, helped facilitate a seamless arrival and departure experience for the tour group, including direct access to bus transportation to and from the airport, a police escort into downtown, a formal welcome dinner at the Carnegie Science Center and traditional entertainment to greet the flights.
Staff also arranged for about a dozen Mandarin-speaking volunteers to help translate for passengers in the airport and at their hotels. The service is particularly important for setting international visitors at ease, Yi said.
“My parents don’t speak English, and I don’t think I would sleep if they were flying into another city and they had to go through customs by themselves and be asked questions,” she said. “Having a nonstop flight to Pittsburgh and volunteers here to help really makes the experience so much better.”
Yi reported that the Chinese tourists she spoke with were amazed by Pittsburgh’s hospitality.
“They are so happy … they have been posting on (Chinese mobile messaging app) WeChat about their travels, the police escort and seeing the sights,” she said.
The travelers told Yi that visiting top universities, touring premier art museums, practicing English and being immersed in U.S. culture for a week were the primary reasons they came.
“We came on this tour because it included four universities and four museums, and the main goal was for my daughter to have a chance to learn more,” said a Chinese tourist named Sophie, whose daughter Dora, 8, is just learning to speak English. “We have been impressed by the city and the very warm welcome from the people of Pittsburgh.”