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First U.S. flight to Vietnam

Pan Am made the last U.S. commercial flight from Vietnam in April 1975.
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Ho Chi Minh
San Francisco (California)

(CNN) -- United Airlines is launching flights from the United States to Vietnam -- marking the first commercial service between the two countries since the end of the Vietnam War.

Daily flights from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City via Hong Kong started Thursday. It is a 20-hour flight on a 347-seat Boeing 747.

The inaugural trip landed late Friday at Tan Son Nhat international airport in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

The last commercial U.S. service to leave Vietnam was by Pan American Airlines back in 1975.

"We are very excited by this historic opportunity to be the first U.S. carrier to provide a direct service to Vietnam in almost 30 years," said Glenn Tilton, CEO of United Airlines in a statement.

"Vietnam holds huge potential of becoming a significant trading partner and an emerging market for U.S. goods and services."

The first voyage will carry Vietnamese and U.S. diplomatic officials, San Francisco community leaders and business executives, as well as the first passengers.

The flight may become a popular route as the U.S. and Vietnam expand business and tourism. The U.S. State Department values trade between the two countries at $5 billion.

However, according to California newspapers, United Airlines had to rework Vietnamese-language advertisements for the new service.

It received complaints for using the words "Ho Chi Minh City," which refers to the name of the late leader of North Vietnam.

Large Vietnamese communities in California have long resisted relations with the communist government and its late leader.

The advertisements now display the new route simply as a flight to Vietnam. Other advertisements will refer to "Ho Chi Minh City -- also known as Saigon."

"We wanted to be sensitive and to acknowledge that there are some people who wish it was still known as Saigon," United Airlines spokesman Stephan Roth told the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

State-owned Vietnam Airlines has a code-share arrangement with Taiwan's China Airlines which gives it a service to the United States via Taipei. The Vietnamese carrier has said it may begin flying its own services to the U.S. West Coast late next year.

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