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One of my favorite things about the airline business is the role we get to play in some of the special moments in our customers’ lives. For example, this month, millions of people will take to the skies to attend the graduation of someone they care about. As we all know, the transition from one stage of life to another — whether to another school or into the “real world” — is a great opportunity to stretch, grow and explore the world like never before.

With our announced merger with US Airways, we’re going through a pretty big transition ourselves at American Airlines. And like the Class of 2013, we are stretching and growing in exciting ways. For example, this month we are launching our first-ever service to South Korea, with nonstop flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and Seoul.

On a per capita basis, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1960s. But with Seoul leading the way, the country has transformed itself into a fully globalized industrial powerhouse. In 2004, the South Korean economy passed the trillion-dollar mark, and today its gross domestic product ranks among the 20 largest in the world. The transformation is often referred to as “the miracle on the Han River.”

Seoul is home to more than 10 million people, and it has one of the highest population densities on the planet. While the city, in terms of land area, accounts for less than one percent of the country, it generates roughly a fifth of the country’s GDP. We all know that many factors contribute to a city’s economic vitality — easy access to air travel, for instance. But I suspect Seoul’s breakneck pace is at least partly attributable to the city’s more than 10,000 coffee shops (more than any other city in the world, it is claimed). The highly caffeinated metropolis is home to more global Fortune 500 companies — including Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia — than all but a handful of cities.

In addition to its central economic and political role, Seoul is also South Korea’s cultural center. The New York Times recently observed that the city “has emerged as one of the most hip (and underrated) cultural capitals in the world.” Indeed, there are few places on Earth where you can experience so much history alongside so much modernity, from ancient palaces and shrines to ultramodern skyscrapers and from traditional Korean music to the K-pop that has taken the American airwaves by storm.

With a new free-trade agreement between the United States and South Korea taking effect last year, the economic and cultural links between our two countries will surely grow even stronger in the years to come, and we are excited about the role we will play in making that happen. Our new service between DFW and Seoul — part of our joint-business agreement with Japan Airlines across the Pacific — will connect one of the world’s most vibrant and fastest-growing cities with our largest connecting hub, providing travelers from South Korea easy access to more than 200 destinations in the U.S. and Latin America. This includes Lima, Peru, another great city, which we began serving from DFW just last month.

Launching our Seoul service was a big and complex undertaking, and I want to congratulate and thank all the members of our team who worked quickly and creatively to make it happen. And on behalf of everyone at American, I also want to congratulate this month’s graduates. I imagine you’re getting lots of advice, so for what it’s worth, here’s mine: Get out and see the world. I know that’s not a surprising suggestion coming from an airline CEO, but I firmly believe that the more you see and experience of the world around you, the more you will discover about yourself
and the role you’re meant to play.

Wherever your search takes you, whether it’s across the country or across the globe, we are here to help. And wherever you are going today, I want to thank you for flying with us.

Happy travels.

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Thomas W. Horton
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines