On the first day the US granted visa-waiver status to Republic of China (ROC) passport holders, 77 Taiwanese tourists on board China Airlines CI006, which took off at 5:10pm from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, were the first group to travel to the US without a visa.
During a ceremony at the boarding gate at the airport terminal, China Airlines chairman Chang Chia-juch (張家祝) made the announcement to mark the first direct flight from Taiwan to the US after the implementation of the US Visa-Waiver Program.
On board the aircraft, a Boeing 747SP, were 351 tourists, including a “VIP guest,” American Institute in Taiwan Director Christopher Marut, Chang said.
Among the travelers who boarded the airplane, 109 held ROC passports, and 77 enjoyed visa-waiver access, Chang said.
“It’s a great honor for China Airlines to fly this first direct flight. The nation’s tourism industry will certainly receive a big boost from the [US visa-waiver] policy,” Chang said.
In his remarks delivered in Mandarin, Marut said that the visa waiver was a result of years of efforts by both sides.
He said it was a testimony to accomplishments in bilateral trade and economic ties, and a milestone in people-to-people relations.
The departure of the CI006 flight was a “historical moment” because it signified that the relationship between Taiwan and the US “has taken off” on all fronts, Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) said.
“It will create more opportunities for business-to-business exchanges and create closer bilateral ties in all the possible areas,” he said.
Under the program, Taiwanese traveling to the US for a stay of no more than 90 days need to apply for the electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) online using a fee of US$14. The permit is valid for two years.
In response, Taiwan extended the number of days US passport holders may stay in Taiwan on a visitor visa from 30 days to 90 days, effective yesterday.
In other news, the Taiwanese government has expressed its sympathy to the US, where in recent days Hurricane Sandy has caused severe damage and claimed dozens of lives, and is mulling ways to offer assistance for post-storm reconstruction.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering ways to assist the US, including making donations toward relief efforts, ministry spokesman Steve Hsia (夏季昌) said.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also expressed his sympathy for the US on Wednesday during a meeting with US Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez, who left for home earlier in the day after a three-day visit to promote bilateral trade and investment.
No deaths or casualties of Taiwanese had been reported from storm-hit areas of the US, Hsia said.
Additonal reporting by CNA