CHENGDU: Bai Yu-ru felt excited on Friday morning as a bright sun broke through the wintry gloom in Sichuan province.
"There's an ancient Chinese saying that the appearance of the sun in Sichuan in the winter is so rare that dogs will bark excitedly when it rises," said Bai, 46, from Taipei.
But the former insurance company employee said her excitement stemmed more from the fact that she would be among the first passengers on the maiden direct flight from Chengdu to Taipei.
The Sichuan Airlines flight Airbus A320, which took off from the Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu at 1:30 pm on Friday, landed at Taipei's Sung-shan Airport at 5 pm.
Every Friday, a Sichuan Airlines Airbus A320 will take off from Chengdu at 1:30 pm and land in Taipei at 5 pm. It will return from Taipei at 6 pm and land in Chengdu at 9:40 pm, said Sichuan Airlines Chairman Lan Xinguo.
Bai, whose husband Chi Zhong-kuan, 48, has worked in Chengdu for nearly a year, said that Chi returned to Taipei only four times before the direct flight.
Each time, he flew to Shenzhen and then went to Hong Kong, where he took a plane for Taipei. "The entire journey took around 12 hours," Chi said.
Bai, who took her two sons to join her husband in July, said the family liked Chengdu so much that they planned to settle there.
"My sons and I did not return to Taipei, as the journey would have taken far too long. But now we will bring my 70-year-old mother Kong Xiangzhen to Chengdu next spring," Bai said.
Kong, a 75th-generation descendent of Confucius, is a native of Qufu, Shandong province. She left the mainland at 8 and taught chemistry in a high school in Taipei for 36 years before her retirement.
The two captains onboard Friday's maiden flight were Lan and Zhang Lu-zhen, a pilot from Taiwan.
Zhang, 48, has worked for Sichuan Airlines since 2005, when the company became the first on the mainland to introduce pilots from Taiwan. The airline currently employs 28 from the island.
When the May 12 earthquake struck Wenchuan county in Sichuan, Wang Yun-de, a pilot from Taiwan, had just landed at the nearby Jiuzhaigou-Huanglong Airport.
"His plane immediately took off and finally sent all of the passengers to safety," Lan said.
Sichuan Airlines was the first mainland carrier to join the quake relief effort in Jiuzhaigou, a scenic spot on UNESCO's List of World Natural Heritage.
It transported more than 10,000 passengers stranded there, including 1,070 visitors from Taiwan.