With the new flights, "we look forward to receiving many more Chinese visitors, and we're working very hard to make sure you all feel welcomed in our city," said Marva Lewis, chief of staff for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Hartsfield-Jackson has launched a mini-site on Chinese messaging and social media app WeChat, she said.
Passenger Limei Zhou, who is from Shanghai and now lives in Baltimore, said she travel to Shanghai every six months or so to visit her parents.
“I’d rather fly from Baltimore to here [Atlanta], then to China,” Zhou said, instead of connecting in Detroit as she has in the past. Detroit “always feels cold and unpredictable,” she said.
A delegation led by Riley is taking the inaugural flight, which was scheduled to depart at 3:20 p.m. Friday afternoon and took off at around 4 p.m.
In a nod to disputes over fuel taxes, he said: "I promise I won't talk sales tax on jet fuel at least until we get into international air space."
Riley said during the trip, the delegation will visit with Chinese companies considering locations in Georgia. Three delegates from Hartsfield-Jackson -- Elliott Paige, Alrene Barr and Myrna White -- are also going on the trip, and will sign a sister airport agreement with Shanghai’s airport.