The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday gave the go-ahead for flights that would begin in June. United plans three flights a week using Boeing's new 787 jet.
Chengdu is one of China's largest cities and the capital of Sichuan province in the central part of the country. It would be the ninth destination in the Asia-Pacific region served by United from San Francisco. United said there is no other nonstop service from the U.S. to Chengdu or other interior cities in China.
United applied for the San Francisco-Chengdu route last month. It said then that flying time would be about 14 hours and 15 minutes to China, and 13 hours and 50 minutes to the U.S. That shaves nearly four hours off the typical travel time between the two cities, which usually requires a stopover.
The Boeing 787, which is smaller than jumbo jets such as the Airbus A380, is expected to make flights to secondary international markets such as Chengdu more practical because airlines won't have to fill as many seats to make them profitable.
Shares of the airline's parent, United Continental Holdings Inc., rose 2 cents to close at $29.72.