Delta Begins to Further Dismantle Its Tokyo/Narita Hub

Yesterday Delta posted a new item on its News Hub entitled “Q&A with APAC SVP: Delta remains committed to Asia despite Haneda agreement.” Note that it says Delta remains committed to Asia, but it says nothing about Tokyo. In fact, Delta has actually decided to being unwinding its Narita hub by cutting three more routes, following through on earlier threats.

Delta’s position in Japan has been perilous for a long time. I know I’ve told this story many times on the blog already, so I’ll keep it brief. Delta inherited the spoils of World War II when it acquired Northwest. The airline’s Tokyo hub was the center of its Asian network. But as aircraft have gained better range, the reliance on Tokyo has waned. Still, Tokyo is an important global city and Japan is a huge market despite its shrinking population.

United and American both found salvation with joint ventures with ANA and JAL respectively. But Delta has been forced to go it alone. The big issue in Delta’s mind is access to Haneda. The close-in, convenient airport with a godzilla-free approach is preferred to more distant Narita, but it’s restricted.

Tokyo Airport Locations

Recent loosening of rules has given Delta two daily flights at Haneda, but that’s not enough for it to move its entire hub. With United/ANA and American/JAL having no shortage of slots, in the long run, Delta thinks it’s going to be in big trouble. The only people going to Narita will be those looking for a cheap deal, if Haneda ever fully opens up without restriction. And Delta doesn’t like being in that position.

It has used this stance to try to lobby the US government to block any further Haneda liberalization unless it can move its entire hub from Narita. That’s a non-starter and though Delta’s efforts may have succeeded in slowing down progress, there’s no stopping the eventual evolution. Delta has threatened that cities would lose Tokyo service from the US and its whole hub would be in jeopardy. In the long run that seems possible, but in the short run it appeared to be just speculation. Apparently that’s not the case as Delta has begun a new round of pull-downs.

The first shot was fired a few months ago when Delta received temporary authority to fly from Los Angeles to Haneda during the day. Starting this fall, Delta is canceling the Narita flight and only operating the Haneda one from there. Now that this is positioned to become a permanent route authority, don’t expect Delta to bring Narita back.

Yesterday, Delta said it would cancel three more routes. Most notably, Delta will no longer fly from JFK to Narita. That is a fairly remarkable drop considering how important New York is to Delta. That will leave United/ANA with 1 daily flight from JFK to Narita, one to Haneda, and one from Newark to Narita. In addition, American/JAL will have 2 daily flights from JFK. I can only assume Delta is losing so much money in this market that it can’t even justify the strategic value. Either that, or it’s trying to send some kind of message about how devastating the Haneda situation will be. I’ll stay positive and assume it’s the former.

Delta is also canceling flights from Narita to Osaka and Bangkok. The Osaka flight was entirely about connecting passengers. So maybe with the loss of feed from LA and New York, that route no longer makes sense (if it ever did). Delta will continue to fly from Osaka to Guam and Honolulu, but that’s for the Japanese market. Americans who want to get to Osaka on Delta will either have to backtrack via Seoul or Shanghai and connect on a partner or just take the train from Tokyo.

Bangkok is a dot that will be wiped completely off Delta’s map (excluding codeshare). On this one, I just assume it’s low-yielding and there’s not enough traffic to bother continuing to fly it. There could also be some operational moves going on here that make it easier to schedule the now-shrinking operation without this flight. Again, it’s partner or bust here.

This leaves Delta with a fairly small hub at Narita. It continues to serve Manila, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taipei within Asia. Of those, only Shanghai is also served from the US. It wouldn’t shock me to see any of those flights disappear. Delta also serves its beach markets in Guam, Honolulu, Palau, and Saipan. Those are almost exclusively for Japanese travelers. They’re leisure routes, so they have a better chance of surviving at Narita.

From the US, once the Haneda award is finalized by the government, I’d be shocked if the Minneapolis-Narita flight didn’t go away since Delta will begin Minneapolis-Haneda. That would leave only Atlanta, Detroit, Portland, and Seattle with flights to Narita. It does make you wonder if Portland can survive. The other three, however, are more about US-originations that flow through those hubs. I think those will have to remain for some time. But if Delta gets a few more Haneda slots…

It’s fascinating to watch Delta pull down its operation at Narita. This could position Delta to get more Haneda slots whenever further liberalization occurs. Or it could rub the feds the wrong way and have the opposite effect.

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44 Comments on "Delta Begins to Further Dismantle Its Tokyo/Narita Hub"

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Dave Starr
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I’ve been following your analysis of Delta and the former NorthWest Narita hub with a lot of interest. I feel the presumed advantages for Haneda you frequently bring up are, perhaps, overstated. I lived in Tokyo for three years and travelled often, both business and pleasure, to and from Narita. At that time Haneda was serving Japan domestic destinations almost exclusively. Haneda is indeed closer to city center than Narita, but it’s hardly easy to get to. To drive from north of Tokyo proper to either one is a chore, to reach Haneda via public transpo is way more difficult… Read more »
Chuck
Guest

Delta also serves Beijing, although the Detroit flight was recently dropped.

Tim Dunn
Member
Delta flies to PEK from both Detroit and Seattle; both flights continue to operate. American flies to PEK from both DFW and ORD which is why the DOT has to consider whether AA’s decision to build DFW to China before saying it wanted LAX-PEK after DL asked for it. Also, AA argues that DL’s SEA to PEK flights would allow it to dominate the west coast even though the west coast to China is a larger market than from the Midwest and yet AA operates two PEK flights from two cities in the Central Time Zone that are closer together… Read more »
jeff
Member

AA’s argument is that without LAX they can’t serve western customers to PEK without first back tracking to DFW or ORD, and that’s true, whereas DL can transfer at SEA. It’s a valid argument. Plus DL also flies from NRT to PVG and that could be changed to LAX-PEK if they wanted. Both are arguments slightly in AA’s favor, but neither should be determinative. Code shared flights are relatively meaningless to this argument, though AA’s JV partner flights should be weighted.

Tim Dunn
Member
Jeffery, thanks for your replies and thanks to Cranky for serving up the topic. Delta’s response to AA’s argument about the west coast is that if the west coast was that important to AA, why did they not start LAX-PEK before two DFW routes. Further, AA’s argument that DL’s two west coast hubs give DL an advantage is offset by the fact that DFW and ORD are closer together than LAX and SEA are. If AA strategically believed that LAX to Asia was the most important part of building out its Asia network, it should have prioritized both LAX routes… Read more »
jeff
Member
All good points, and nice civil debate (so rare on the interwebs!). I’d say that most of the work that started building DFW before LAX came from pre-merger management (even the 2014 routes had to have the years of work before the merger) the new management pushed into LAX as the Asian gateway with its expanded routes and additional domestic feed. My comment on JV actually would boost DL as I think all metal neutral flights should be weighted the same as a company flights, versus a lower weight to codesharing, so any JAL flight thats falls under the agreement… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
I agree, Jeff, that it is good to talk with someone who knows the issues involved and can present them in a civil, constructive manner. The sites that host such conversations benefit and people learn – which should be a goal of these types of online discussions. The DOT agrees with your assessment that joint venture flights have to be considered alongside company operated flights because there is joint coordination and potential for revenue and profit sharing although the details of how that works for each joint venture/business arrangement is not publicly released (although the DOT and DOJ know those… Read more »
Neil S.
Guest
As a loyal DL flier, the thing that stinks is that the SkyTeam partners just aren’t that great. Yet. I am based in NYC, so the JFK-NRT flight was fantastic for getting there, and then connecting. If the best two stop way is now China Eastern or China Southern and then a connection, sure the hard product is good but the many reviews on the soft product all sound dreadful. And are those even full MQM? KE was and now isn’t. I get that DL wants me on their metal, but when there is no metal, you gotta give me… Read more »
Joey Jaidee
Guest

When will do discontinue the Nrt bkk flight??

jeff2
Member
I am curious why Delta does not try to serve more popular Asian cities direct from USA. Here is a self serving example. I have to fly to MNL for business and it is always two stops – a US hub and NRT. The only direct flights to MNL from the USA are from LAX and SFO on PAL (great flight attendants – lousy airline). A 777 can (barely) make it there from ATL (or JFK or DTW). Why not? From NRT to MNL it is always an oversold 747 so it seems the demand is there.
ted
Guest

MNL can sustain a 777, but it might sustain a 787. the route always carry a LOTof NonRevs on a daily basis.

jeff2
Member

Thanks Ted. I do not know how many non-revs are on the NRT – MNL route but I frequently get bumped to first from economy on that leg. I do not think Delta will ever get any 787s, maybe they will service it with an A-350 in a few years, but a 777 from a Delta hub to MNL would be a good flight for Delta in my opinion although it will probably have to go from DTW due to range considerations – MNL is a long way away.

Adam R
Guest

really? it was always sold out by revenue when I was non-revving.

Joey Jaidee
Guest

I am certainly no expert but I have heard that mnl is low yield. Make of that what you will.

Jeremy
Guest

Not The best video in the world, but its worth watching while you reply to email.

Tokyo Eye 2020 Haneda
Its a tourist/olympics/government propaganda film about the airport.
http://youtu.be/hLU_o8ISMvo

Tim Dunn
Member
First of all, this is very like just the “cut” phase of Delta’s Pacific restructuring. They said all along that they had to let their employees know as soon as they could and there are likely legal requirements they have to meet in order to cut flights and service; they also have to stop selling seats on routes they don’t intend to fly. There will be a “build” phase and that part is not known yet – but it will occur. The only question is what and when. Of the routes that will be cut, JFK-NRT is by far the… Read more »
dan
Guest

Seems this is just another step for DELTA to become more like Southwest…

David SF eastbay
Member

Didn’t DL mess up its relationship with KE, where it could be enjoying a nice connecting operation via SEL and only kept Japan cities for point to point service to/from the USA and like you mentioned, some of the Pacific islands?

Tim Dunn
Member
The notion that Delta messed up its relationship with Korean Airlines is at odds with the facts. Delta has its code on more KE flights from Seoul than American or United have on their Japanese partners from either Tokyo airport. Delta has the largest presence of any US airline at Seoul. If KE wanted to cause DL to have to downsize its ICN operation, it would not allow DL to put its code on KE’s flights. In the US, Korean operates more seats from Atlanta to Seoul than Delta does from Atlanta to Narita. Korean’s size and discounting in Atlanta… Read more »
jeff
Member
I think the argument for strained relations involves their unwillingness to enter into a JV together, that on paper makes a ton of sense. Code-sharing doesn’t imply much, and revenue difference to the non-operating carrier between code shares and metal-neutal revenue sharing JV is huge. Add the fact that KE is really DL’s only JV option right now due to no open skies with China and you can see why people may think it’s a strained relationship. At the very least it’s clear they don’t see eye to eye on how a JV would work otherwise it would probably be… Read more »
jeff
Member

I’m curious to see what happens with NRT-PVG if AA gets the LAX-PEK rights. I believe DL had the right to drop the NRT-PVG and fly from a US hub to a 1st tier Chinese airport if they do.

robert
Member

They are retiring their 747’s soon. You have to ask which of these routes are served by 747’s.

Audi 5000
Member

I agree with the poster comparing HND to NRT with respect to transit times to Tokyo.

The reality is a difference of maybe 5 to 40 minutes each way, depending on where in Tokyo you are going. Certainly, if your final destination in Tokyo is near a NEX (Narita Express) station, then NRT could be even faster – one fast train, no stops or changes. And the NEX stations are very central, in populated, hotel-filled areas.

When I started traveling to Tokyo, I drank the Kool-aid that Haneda was preferable. But with experience I learned that it’s really not necessarily the case.

MC
Member
Since Delta is dropping LAX and NYC to NRT, does DL think there won’t be enough connecting passenger’s to keep Bangkok or is BKK just not holding it’s own….Isn’t there enough traffic for DL to continue NRT as well as HND….the NRT is mainly for connecting traffic to other Asian destination’s…..as for MSP, i’ve read so many thing’s about MSP is going to fail before it even start’s….seem’s to me that both NRT and HND could both hold their own since one will be mainly O&D and the other connecting….I could understand if MSP wasn’t such a big hub for… Read more »
Michael
Guest
I definitely drink the HND Kool Aid, but I also live in Seoul. Case in point, my friend flew an LCC ICN-NRT. He left around 11-11:30 for the bus (one hour, ICN is far from Gangnam) and his flight at 2ish. He landed around 4-4:30. By the time he cleared immigration, bought train tickets, etc. etc. he didn’t get to our Shinjuku apt. until 7-8. Meanwhile, I worked until 5:30, caught a 30 minute train to Gimpo airport. My flight was at 7:15. As it’s Gimpo, you literally show up and there’s no one. Landed at 9:15ish, cleared security in… Read more »
Guy Thomas
Guest

I travel to BKK 5 times a year. DAL to NRT has been such a good connection. I hate that they have suspended the BKK flights.. I have very seldom been on a flight from NRT to BKK that had any seats available… Hard to understand, a world airline dropping a entire country!!

jeff2
Member

I agree Guy. Most Asian flights are full. I cannot understand how a carrier loses money on full flights. If Delta is losing money with a 767 why not put a 757 on the route.

Alex
Guest

At LAX, we are installing bigger GPU’s at T2 and T3. This only means bigger Delta metal at LAX and can only mean one thing. Delta is most probably going to fly direct to Asian destinations. We are moving to T2 and T3

Robert Marin
Guest
Delta’s cancellation of jfk-nrt route is a stab in the back for the New York travelers.I mean JFK is major airport for Delta and they took it out for competition and growth. I mean, who wants to fly from jfk-atl, jfk-sea, jfk-dtw. etc. then connect to those other airports to fly to Narita? Some people might like that, but others prefer flying nonstop. If Delta is worried about competition, they should’ve have partnered with Solaseed and Vanilla Airlines (which both airlines operate in Japan) and add to the Skyteam group, then the the route wouldn’t be axed. Delta executives has… Read more »
jeff2
Member
I was on a flight the Manila last week and was speaking to the flight attendants. Basically the NRT – MNL is a 747 that goes up MNL to NRT in the AM and returns to MNL in the PM and has an all Manila based flight attendant crew. Delta fired 30 of their 48 flight attendants based in Manila (they were less than thrilled as you might guess). Delta is retiring the 747 on that route and replacing it with a 767. A 767 only requires 18 flight attendants a 747 48 (for daily service). The airfare the day… Read more »
Tim Dunn
Member
There is nothing surprising that Delta is cutting flight attendants at MNL. Not many years ago, Delta said that if the Narita hub was downsized, there would be a need to reduce its presence in beyond Tokyo markets. Since Delta operated two 747s to MNL not that long ago and is moving to a single 767, there is a significant reduction in capacity and need for FAs as well. As for New York JFK, it is no more indicting of Delta that they don’t fly to East Asia than that no US carrier has a presence rom JFK to East… Read more »
jeff2
Member

Thanks for the comments Tim.

One thing, Delta does not have service to US mainland to / from Manila. PAL and AA have service from the US West coast to MNL, but Delta only serves MNL from Tokyo.

I have not seen their code share grow with Korean, but maybe I missed it. I would like to see their codeshare grow as Korean is a lower tier carrier with Delta on Skymiles and few MQMs are earned when flying on Korean.

Tim Dunn
Member

do you mind posting all of the AA flight numbers to/from MNL?

DL’s service to MNL is via NRT and is the only US carrier service to the Philippines that connects to the mainland.

as for codeshares, just remember that if codeshares matter, AA has 3 flights/day to PEK while DL has 2…. which just might influence the DOT’s decision on LAX-PEK.

There is an article here about DL-KE on this site. When the schedules are filed, the DL-KE codeshare partnership will be one of the largest over the Pacific

jeff2
Member

Hi Tim.

I apologize. There is no American Airlines service to Manila. I was incorrect. It seems the only America flag carriers are Delta and United has a flight to Guam.

I did more research and it seems US carriers do not feel they can compete with the low cost structure of Philippine flag carriers. Also, residents of Philippines are price conscious and often do not pay for business class tickets which is essential for profitable operations. Thus Manila is a low margin city.

Tim Dunn
Member

MNL is a low yield market because the Philippines are not economically in the same league as other East Asian economies. The connection with the US is heavily tied to WWII which also was the source of the NW Tokyo to MNL traffic rights.

The bigger question in DL’s restructuring is TPE and CI China Airlines which is a Skyteam carrier. Perhaps TPE and codesharing on CI’s network to SE Asia is an early addition after the SEA expansion.

Jeff
Guest

Folks, my biggest issue is service to BKK, OR THE lack of it now, from DL.
From the east coast smaller cities Norfolk, Richmond or Newportnews virginia. We had to go to either Atl, Jfk,DTW,MSP, but all connected to NRT TO BKK.
Even Dulles on DL its now to seattle Bottom line over 28 hr to get to BKK..
KAL from Atl to BKK is cheaper than the posted DL TO Bkk?????
— options now to take KAL from IAD Dulles to ICN then to BKK
— DOES KAL OFFER COMFORT + SEATING LIKE DL?????

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