Bamboo Airways' Aircraft [Image: Tokimvuong / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

A Bamboo Bridge Over the Pacific


In September of 2021, a memorandum between Bamboo Airways of Vietnam and San Francisco International Airport established a direct flight between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest metropolis. At first glance, this agreement looks like another normal business deal between airlines and airports. Yet, it is not merely another business deal, but something much loftier. Finally, a non-stop direct flight between the United States and Vietnam will come to fruition, 26 long years after normalization of relations in 1995. This development carries symbolic importance as a milestone in the relations between two former bitter enemies. The agreement, however, is only a part of the increasingly intimate economic relations between the two countries since the United States and China have engaged in a bitter trade war. For example, Apple, one of the United States’ largest companies, is moving some of its production capacity to Vietnam to avoid the fallout of US-China tensions.

For San Francisco, a direct flight to the largest city in Vietnam could mean access to a vibrant, rising market with increasing demands for airborne travel. The country is expected to take 280 million air trips per year by 2030. In 2019, about 143,000 Vietnamese visited the United States, ranked fourth among ASEAN states in travel to the United States. This is an impressive number despite the country’s lack of direct flights. A direct and shorter flight between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco could mean more Vietnamese travelers, bringing economic benefits to the city.

However, the opening of a direct flight will bring more than just economic benefits. Situated close to San Jose, a city with the third-largest Vietnamese-American community, San Francisco serves as an important gateway for the Vietnamese community on either side of the Pacific. A direct route between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City will facilitate the movement of people from both countries, thus helping to strengthen the Vietnamese-American community and Vietnam-US relations.

Tri Vo is a participant of the Young Professional Program of the East-West Center. He recently graduated from the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.