Hello Tokyo! Airlines Battle for Newly Available Routes

Travel to Japan is about to get a major shakeup: A pending open skies agreement between the U.S. and Japan will allow U.S.-flagged carriers to fly into Tokyo's Haneda International Airport as well as Narita International Airport. Why does this matter? Location, location, location: Haneda is roughly 15 miles outside downtown Tokyo; Narita is 45.

Haneda has been off-limits to U.S. carriers since 1978, according to the Associated Press. In the intervening years, Haneda, though officially named Tokyo International Airport, has handled mostly domestic traffic, with international flights funneled through Narita. The open skies agreement coincides with the construction of a fourth runway at Haneda, which is already the busiest airport in Asia and fourth-busiest in the world.

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The new agreement opens up four slots for flights to Haneda, and already the competition for those slots is heating up. Here are the proposed routes:

  • American: to/from New York (JFK), Los Angeles
  • Continental: to/from Newark, Guam
  • Delta: to/from Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, Honolulu
  • Hawaiian: to/from Honolulu
  • United: to/from San Francisco

I won't wager a guess (but if you want guesses, click here) at which of these will be approved, but there are a number of factors to consider. For example, American, Continental, and United are members of airline alliances that already serve Haneda via either Japan Airlines or All Nippon Airways. The Wall Street Journal reports that "Delta ... argued in a regulatory filing that JAL and Star member All Nippon Airways, Inc., would provide "ample" opportunities for its U.S. rivals to offer services to the airport." Delta already serves Narita.

Another factor is the Department of Transportation (DOT), which ultimately will decide which airlines get slots and which routes will be served. The DOT will have to weigh the usefulness of each route, and may lean away from routes aimed at luring Japanese tourists (i.e. Honolulu) in favor of routes that benefit large centers of population and commerce.

But for all the angling and campaiging for these routes, are they really any good? Brett Snyder at the Cranky Flier throws some cold water on the whole scenario, asking, "Is anyone going to want to use these flights? Haneda may be closer to Tokyo than Narita, but the flight times (at least the eastbound ones) simply suck ... flights on US carriers to and from Haneda can only operate between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. What’s worse? Departures to the continental US can only occur between midnight and 7 a.m. That’s a killer."

The inconvenient departures will likely scare some people off, but will it be enough to diminish the convenience of arriving so close to Tokyo? My guess is no. With so few slots, demand for flights into Haneda will likely be strong enough to overcome the itinerary shortcomings. Either way, we should know soon, as the DOT is looking to fast-track the approval process.

Readers, does this news make you more interested in visiting Japan?

Read comments or add your own insight!
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