Calcutta will have a second direct flight to mainland China next month, when Hainan Airlines starts its service to Shenzhen in the southern province of Guangdong.

"We will start our operations before June 30 with three flights a week from Calcutta to Shenzhen, and based on the response, we are open to increasing the frequency," Li Li, the general manager of the airline’s city office, told Metro.

The flight will leave Calcutta at 2.15 in the afternoon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and reach Shenzhen at 8.25pm (local time). From Shenzhen, the flight will leave on the same days at 11.40am (local time) and touch down in Calcutta at 1 in the afternoon.

The only direct air link to mainland China from the city now is China Eastern Airlines’s daily flight to Kunming.

Hainan, part of the $50-billion HNA Group of China, will operate a Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 160 seats, including eight business-class berths, offering an introductory fare of Rs 18,000 (all-inclusive) per passenger, with the option to fly free onwards from Shenzhen to Beijing or Hangzhou (capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang).

Also as part of the introductory offer, fliers can take a free bus ride from Shenzhen airport to Hong Kong, just 45 minutes by road.

"Besides, for an additional Rs 1,500, one can fly to any of the three destinations of Chengdu (Sichuan province), Changsha (Hunan province) or Ningbo (seaport city of Zhejiang province)," Li said.

From its Beijing hub, Hainan Airlines offers connections to Brussels, Budapest, Berlin and Zurich in Europe and to Seattle and Toronto in North America.

The city’s travel trade, starved of overseas destinations to sell in the absence of direct connections, is excited over another foreign airline checking in.

"This will give us the opportunity to market Shenzhen as a business and tourist stop, with the extra leverage of Beijing and Hong Kong thrown in. With the airport being revamped, this is a strategic juncture to come to Calcutta," felt Anil Punjabi, the chairman (east) of the Travel Agents’ Federation of India.

"We are working closely with the Shenzhen tourism authorities to promote the city as an attractive destination for Calcuttans," Li said.

Shenzhen, located west to the Pearl river, with its mild, subtropical oceanic climate, and only three-and-a-half hours away, could become a popular alternative to Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, city-based travel agents felt.

"There are so many wonderful theme parks in Shenzhen like the Happy Kingdom with sections representing regions around the world, the Window of the World, assembling 130 world-famous scenes, besides the Safari Park, the Waterlands Resort and the Sea World. We can devise packages for Calcutta tourists," said Bilolaksha Das, the secretary of TAFI, eastern region.

The "first airline from mainland China to earn the Skytrax five-star award", Hainan has also lined up a Shanghai-Shenzhen-Mumbai flight, to operate thrice a week, from July, according to Hank Tu, the general manager of the airline’s Mumbai office.

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