By Alison Fox
November 18, 2019
JIM WATSON/Getty Images

A long-haul flight from the U.S. to Asia can mean cramped leg room and not-so-great food for many travelers who are typically squeezed into too-small seats in economy.

But that’s not the case for Bei Bei, the giant panda who was born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C. For this fluffy panda, flying to Asia means getting your own private jet.

Bei Bei the giant panda was born at the zoo in 2015, according to CNN, and will return to China on Tuesday per an agreement that requires all giant pandas born at the zoo go to China when they turn 4 years old.

Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Bei Bei, who was named by former First Lady Michelle Obama and China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan, was the first generation of pandas to live at the National Zoo, according to the group, adding that wild giant pandas were upgraded from endangered to vulnerable in September 2016.

"Bei Bei is part of our family," Steve Monfort, a zoo director, told CNN. "Our team has cared for him, learned from him and, along with millions, loved watching him grow."

Bei Bei will travel on his own private Boeing 777F — called, of all things, the Panda Express — featuring decals of a panda on the aircraft, according to FedEx. And he will have some great snack options (no overcooked chicken or cold packaged rolls for him) with 66 pounds of bamboo, snacks and water on board.

When it comes to entertainment, this fluffy panda is getting his own personalized playlist and the Smithsonian is asking for the public’s recommendations. (Really, the puns are endless with options like “Bei Bei Got Back.”)

“If you were a giant panda taking a 16-hour flight to China, what would you want on your playlist?” the Smithsonian tweeted. “As we say #ByeByeBeiBei with our @NationalZoo, we invite you to change "baby" to "Bei Bei" and share your picks with #BeiBeiMixTape.”

But saying goodbye — or zàijiàn in Chinese — is always hard for anyone, and the National Zoo is no different, getting nostalgic on Monday. The zoo posted a throwback photo of Bei Bei’s ultrasound along with a video of him adorably sliding down a snowy tree and tumbling onto the ground.

Bei Bei the giant panda cub is seen in an enclosure at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park on Tuesday December 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. He was born August 22, 2015.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

“Bei Bei always sticks the landing. #ByeByeBeiBei,” the zoo wrote on Twitter.

As he gets ready to take flight, the giant panda was presented with a colorful ice cake with some of his favorite flavors like sugar cane and sweet potato.

Bei Bei is the third giant panda that was born at the zoo to move to China, according to the National Zoo, following Tai Shan, who moved in 2010, and Bao Bao, who moved in 2017. When he reaches sexual maturity between 5 and 7 years old, Bei Bei will enter the giant panda breeding program, according to the zoo.

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