Delta Keeps Its Seattle-Haneda Flight But It Can No Longer Squat On It

An interesting decision came out of the Department of Transportation (DOT) last week in regards to the fight over Delta’s Seattle-Haneda flight. In short, DOT said Delta could keep it, but only if it actually flew it. I like the decision.

DOT Scolds Delta

Here’s a little backstory here for those who don’t recall. Delta started service to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport a little while back from its growing Seattle hub. Haneda service is highly restricted, so the slots are coveted. Apparently Delta wasn’t doing so well on this route, so it put into place a bare minimum schedule for operation this winter. That schedule? Delta flew one week of flights for every ninety days, as required. That, of course, is entirely unhelpful to people who actually want to fly the route, and since Haneda is restricted, that was a real hoarding exercise that hurt consumers.

Enter, American. Though American had given up its one Haneda slot (flight from JFK) previously, the new management team decided it wanted to get back in, but this time from LA. So, American petitioned DOT to re-open the award and instead give the slot to American, which promised to actually use it. The petition was biting and angrily directed right at Delta. Hawaiian, not one to miss a good opportunity, jumped into the fray as well. Hawaiian agreed that Delta should be stripped of the route, but it wanted the authority to fly Kona to Haneda.

Game on.

After some back and forth and the usual political gamesmanship, DOT made a decision last week. Delta gets to keep flying from Seattle to Haneda but it has to do it every day.

Quoting from the ruling, I can’t really disagree with DOT on this.

When the Department permitted Delta to introduce Seattle-Haneda service, it did so because it found that Delta’s proposed service would address a variety of public interest goals and would best maximize public benefits.

Delta was opening a new gateway into Haneda and that provided the most benefits to US-based travelers. That hasn’t changed. Sure, American flying from LAX would add another airline in Haneda, but it’s on a route that’s already flown by both Delta and ANA. And Hawaiian? Well, it would benefit Japanese tourists more than US-based travelers, but DOT also has an issue in that there is already a concentration of slots being used in Hawai’i. It wants to spread the wealth around. But the problem was clear…

Nevertheless, the Department recognizes that the positive attributes of Seattle-Haneda service remain meaningful only if Seattle-Haneda service is actually being provided.

Yes indeed, that is the problem. So how is DOT going to fix this? By adding a very restrictive condition to the authority.

Any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform a Seattle-Haneda flight, and any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform a Haneda-Seattle flight, on each and every day of every week (7 days a week, 365 days a year), will constitute a violation of Delta’s Seattle-Haneda authority subject to enforcement. Any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform Seattle-Haneda flights, and any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform Haneda-Seattle flights, on two days of any seven-day period (365 days a year) will constitute a default of Delta’s Seattle-Haneda authority and that authority will automatically expire.

So there you have it. Fly it every single day or you’re gonna be in trouble, Delta. And if you fail to fly it twice in a 7 day period, you automatically lose the authority. To further strengthen this, American was selected as the backup. If Delta defaults, then American automatically gets the authority, no additional proceeding required.

This kind of rule gives Delta some flexibility. If it has an airplane break, DOT is not going to take the authority away. But if it happens to have 3 planes break in a week, then it’s all over.

Assuming this order is finalized, what will Delta do? Is it worth losing a ton of money on the flight just to hold on to the authority, hoping profitability improves? Yes. According to a Delta spokesperson…

Delta thanks the U.S. Department of Transportation for its tentative decision to allow the airline to continue its service between Seattle and Haneda Airport in Tokyo. After an extensive review, DOT concluded that Delta’s Seattle-Haneda service provides the best public use of the available slot pair between the U.S. and Haneda Airport. Earlier this month, Delta resumed its nonstop service between Seattle and Haneda after a temporary seasonal suspension. Delta will operate year-round, nonstop flights between Seattle and Haneda as we continue to grow Delta’s international gateway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

There you have it. I’m sure American isn’t happy about this, but it’ll keep trying to get in one way or another. As for Hawaiian, it saw Kona to Haneda as a very specific opportunity. It doesn’t work from Narita, according to the airline, so Kona just doesn’t get Japan flights. Though Hawaiian isn’t happy about this, and says so publicly.

Despite other airline opposition, it’s hard to argue how this isn’t fair. DOT found the Seattle service to be the most beneficial in the first place. Now Delta actually has to operate it if it wants to keep the authority.

[Original scolding photo via Shutterstock]

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