US Airlines Begin The Fight for Tokyo Haneda Slots

Now that Japan Air Lines has decided to stick with American, it looks like this whole US-Japan open skies deal will go through. And when that happens, the US will have four slot pairs to dole out to US carriers who want to fly between the US and Haneda, Tokyo’s close-in airport. This hasn’t been allowed since before Narita opened, and as you might imagine, airlines are falling all over each other to get in there.

What’s so great about Haneda? Take a look at this map.

Tokyo and Its Airports

It’s 24km by car south of Central Tokyo while Narita is 74km northeast of town. But the biggest reason airlines want to fly here? Limited competition, of course. With only four slot pairs to a close-in airport for one of the largest cities in the world, who wouldn’t want to fly there? And that has made for some pretty goofy applications, even with the annoying timing restrictions that are in place to protect Japanese carriers.

Here’s what we’ve seen so far:

  • United wants to fly daily from San Francisco
  • American wants to fly daily from JFK and LA
  • Delta wants to fly daily from Seattle, Detroit, LA, and Honolulu
  • Continental wants to fly daily from Newark and Guam
  • Hawaiian wants to fly twice daily from Honolulu

That’s 11 applications for 4 slot pairs. You math majors can figure out that not everyone is going to get what they want. The DOT says that it will decide this way.

Our principal objective in this proceeding will be to maximize the public benefits that will result from introducing U.S.-flag carrier service in the U.S.-Haneda market. In this regard, we will consider which applicant or applicants will most likely offer and maintain service that best meets the needs of the traveling and shipping public.

Now they don’t say it here, but I imagine this is supposed to be the American public and not the general public. With that in mind, Continental can kiss its Guam application goodbye and Hawaiian and Delta can forget about Honolulu. See, those markets are more important for Japanese tourists than anything else. So while the flights would be good for the local economy, they certainly aren’t strong enough candidates to support the American traveling public.

That leaves us with 7 applications for four slots. We’re getting closer. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Delta has the inside track. The other carriers will all be entering into joint ventures with Japanese carriers who will have their own slots to use. Delta is the only one who won’t have that option. As I said, I doubt we’ll see them get the Honolulu option, and to be honest, Seattle may be a tougher sell as well, but LA and Detroit seem quite plausible. After that, they’ll probably spread the wealth around, I’d imagine.

My biggest question is this . . . 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. The Japanese are only allowing these slots to be used when Narita is under curfew. So flights on US carriers to and from Haneda can only operate between 10p and 7a. What’s worse? Departures to the continental US can only occur between midnight and 7a. That’s a killer.

Take a look at American’s proposed Haneda schedule to get a good idea of what we’re working with. Flights from LA would leave at 645p and arrive Haneda at 1005p. That’s not that bad – you can get in a full day of work in LA and fly out. But the return? It leaves Haneda at 1205a and will arrive LA at 610p. Nobody wants to take a flight that leaves at midnight when you end up losing a full day on your way to LA anyway. And a 610p arrival will make only a few regional connections available from LA. I’d rather travel a bit further and go to Narita at a normal hour.

The problem is similar for an east coast trip. Flights from JFK would leave at 720p and arrive at 1020p. Not bad if you want to get in a full day of work in New York. But the return? It actually leaves at 7a, the latest possible, with a 650a arrival in New York. That’s certainly better than a midnight departure with an 1150p arrival. At least this schedule allows for connections, but it wastes so much time. You end up having to spend a full night in Tokyo when you probably would rather board a plane and head home.

The saving grace, again, is that only a few flights will be allowed. So I imagine they’ll do ok, but it’s not going to be ideal.

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