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“The central struggle of men has ever been to understand one another,” writes Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his 1939 book Wind, Sand and Stars. “And it is this very thing that the machine” — by which de Saint- Exupéry means the airplane — “helps them to do. It begins by annihilating time and space.” Those words have been on my mind a great deal lately, as I have had occasion to travel to Asia several times during the last few months. It is hard not to be struck by how easy it has become to travel great distances in a short period of time.

It has been 75 years since the first commercial trans-Pacific air service was launched. The inaugural flight, from California to the Philippines by flying boat, entailed 60 hours of flying spread over six and a half days and included stops in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam. As arduous as that journey sounds, the alternative was a boat trip of at least three weeks. Fast-forward to today: I recently had a morning meeting in Tokyo, an afternoon meeting in Shanghai and was home in my North Texas bed that same night.

American Airlines has been connecting Shanghai and Chicago, two of the world’s great cities, for four years. Shanghai, as you may know, is located on the coast of the East China Sea. The most populous urban area in China, it was the first Chinese seaport opened to Western trade, and it has long been the country’s leading industrial and commercial center. I can personally attest to the city’s bustling pace. This is a particularly exciting time to visit Shanghai, as the city is host to World Expo 2010, the premier gathering of world cultures which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31. This is China’s first time hosting, and with nearly 200 countries represented and an estimated 70 million visitors from around the world expected, it promises to be the biggest World Expo in the event’s 150-year history. American Airlines is proud to be the official airline sponsor of World Expo 2010’s USA Pavilion, which will showcase our country’s culture and help foster friendship and understanding between the American and Chinese people.

As you know, there are few topics in the world of business — or in the world at large, for that matter — as interesting or as important as the relationship between the United States and China. We’re excited about the role we play connecting the two countries, and we plan to launch new service between Chicago and Beijing, China’s political and cultural center, very soon . In the meantime, at just over 7,000 miles, our flights between Chicago and Shanghai take between 13 and a half and 14 and a half hours, depending on which direction you’re headed. While that may seem like a long time to spend in the air, it is certainly a lot shorter and a lot more comfortable than a three-week boat ride.

Many centuries ago, St. Augustine wrote “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Like a great book or other work of art, air travel expands our horizons, fuels our imagination and deepens our understanding of our fellow man and of ourselves. Since you are likely reading this column onboard an AA flight, I’m guessing you already know that, but I think it’s worth repeating. It’s also worth repeating that every member of our team appreciates that you have chosen to fly with us today. Thank you for letting us be part of your story. Have a great trip.

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Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines