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Legend has it that touching the pen of the statue of Anonymous — which depicts the unsung wordsmith of a Hungarian king — in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square can make you a better writer. Unfortunately for me and for you, I have not yet taken advantage of this opportunity to improve my writing skills. Nonetheless, I am going to do my best in this month’s column to introduce you to Budapest, a fascinating city and a new addition to the American Airlines network.

As you probably know, Budapest is the capital — as well as the economic and cultural center — of Hungary. The city is actually made up of two parts, Buda and Pest, which are situated on opposite sides of the Danube River and which were separate cities until 1873. A beautiful natural setting, Budapest is where the hilly region of western Hungary meets the plains that extend to the south and east.Like so many of its Eastern European neighbors, Hungary has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last two decades, transitioning from a closed to an open society and from a centrally planned to a market economy. Today, Hungary’s private sector accounts for more than 80 percent of its gross domestic product. In 2008, Budapest ranked third out of 65 cities, trailing only Shanghai and Beijing, in Mastercard’s Emerging Markets Index. And while the Hungarian economy, like so many others, went through a painful recession in 2008 and 2009, it rebounded in 2010 and is expected to grow by more than 2.5 percent this year.

Widely considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest attracts millions of tourists each year. It is home to several World Heritage Sites, including the Buda Castle quarter, the Danube River embankments and Andrássy Avenue, an iconic boulevard dating back to the 1870s that combines stately mansions and contemporary shopping, restaurants and theaters. The Hungarian Parliament Building, sitting on the banks of the Danube, is the largest parliament in Europe, and the Dohány Street Synagogue (also known as the Great Synagogue) is second in size only to New York’s Temple Emanu-El. Budapest is also a world-renowned spa destination. The abundance of underground hot springs in and around the city has attracted relaxation seekers since Roman times.

At American Airlines, we are excited by the opportunity to launch new, nonstop service between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Budapest Ferihegy International Airport. But I hasten to add that we are not only connecting two of the world’s great cities. Perhaps more importantly, we are also connecting two powerful gateways. We serve a broad array of domestic and international destinations from New York, and in the past year alone, we have announced the addition of more than 30 new flights on 13 new routes from New York, as well as $30 million worth of investments in our terminals at JFK and LaGuardia airports. While Budapest represents an important new destination in its own right, it is also the major connecting hub of our oneworld partner Malév Hungarian Airlines. Named Best Airline in Eastern Europe at the 2010 World Airline Awards, Malév flies to nearly 50 cities in more than 30 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East. The linking of the AA operation in New York with Malév’s connecting hub in Budapest will translate into better choices, more convenient itineraries and a smoother journey for the customers of both airlines.

More than a century ago, the acclaimed Hungarian composer Franz Liszt said: “Beware of missing chances; otherwise it may be altogether too late someday.” In a way, it’s hard to believe that despite our long history (85 years), we have never before served Budapest. I am glad we have finally gotten our chance. Like my AA colleagues, I am looking forward to getting to know the city much better — and of course, if you notice an improvement in my writing, you will know I have been to Heroes’ Square!

Wherever you are going today, thanks for flying with us.

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Gerard J. Arpey
American Airlines