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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Joseph Wesemann of Highland greets his grandmother, Akiko Shikada of Fukuoka, Japan, Wednesday in Salt Lake City.

Utahns are now just 11 hours away from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Delta Air Lines Inc. on Wednesday began nonstop flights between Salt Lake City International Airport and Tokyo Narita International Airport daily, excluding Sundays and Tuesdays, as part of the company's merger with Northwest Airlines Inc.

Northwest's largest hub in Asia is at the Tokyo airport, from which Northwest offers nonstop flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai in China; Bangkok, Thailand; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Singapore. Other cities, such as Seoul, Korea, and Hanoi, Vietnam, can be reached from Tokyo through other airlines.

"I think the main point is Salt Lake is becoming an international city, having nonstop flights to Paris and Tokyo," Spencer P. Eccles, chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber, said before hopping the inaugural flight to Japan on the Airbus 330. Delta began nonstop daily flights to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris last year, connecting the Beehive State with Europe.

According to figures provided by the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Japan has the world's second-largest economy, with a gross domestic product of $4.9 trillion. In 2008, Japan was Utah's seventh-largest export country with $376 million in products shipped.

Asia also has large emerging economies such as China that haven't been as severely affected by the world economic slowdown. "It really is important for Salt Lake City to interface with the world," said Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, who also took the flight.

The Utah Office of Tourism, GOED and Salt Lake County have contributed or will contribute $750,000 in advertising and marketing of the flights and the hiring of additional personnel at the airport for security. Government and business officials believe the money will be returned in the form of additional trade from Utah to Asia. GOED executive director Jason Perry said the flight will create 1,000 jobs directly or indirectly.

But money-making opportunities were the last thing on the minds of the three Wesemann boys of Highland — Jun, 11, Ken, 9, and Joseph, 7. Their smiles widened as soon as their grandma, Akiko Shikada, stepped off the plane Wednesday.

The boys' mother, Kazue Wesemann, is excited about the nonstop flight. Running through airports with young children, trying to make connecting flights can be difficult. Now, there will only be one transfer, from Tokyo to her mother's town of Fukuoka, Japan. "Door to door, it takes 24 hours. Now that we have this flight, it will take 19, 18 hours," she said.

Capt. Alan Reichel, a Northwest pilot, said the flight travels the so-called "Great Circle Route" — northwest over the Aleutian Islands of southern Alaska, over the Kuril Islands of Russia, then approaching Tokyo from the northeast. The flight takes about an hour longer traveling from Salt Lake City to Tokyo than from Tokyo to Salt Lake City because of winds.

On delta.com, the flight out of Salt Lake for July 3-10 costs $952.20 round-trip, excluding taxes.

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