US Airlines Begin The Fight for Tokyo Haneda Slots

Government Regulation

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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35 comments on “US Airlines Begin The Fight for Tokyo Haneda Slots

  1. The connection possibilities out of LA seem to either be the regionals that you mentioned, or waiting a few hours and catching redeyes going east. I’ve done the double redeye before, and it’s not fun, to say the least. The LA flight seems like a pretty good option if your final destination is LA; get home by 8 oclock, then go to bed. But as a connecting option, as you mentioned, it doesnt have much appeal.

  2. what’s wrong with those timings? If I lived in LA I reckon I’d go for the Haneda options every time, allowing me to do a days work and then travel in both directions. Narita is so far from Tokyo that Ryanair might even wince at the idea of calling it Tokyo…

  3. I live and work in Tokyo, and I find these schedules to be simply awesome. They open up many new possibilities for structuring business travel from Japan to the US.

  4. The airlines only want it so they can say they have it and the other guys don’t, which is why DL put in the four markets.

    UA from SFO and DL from DTW seem good because of the vast flight ops they have at those airports, if even to locals areas. UA can cover a lot of cities with a arrival time similiar to what AA has given for LAX.

    You are right that GUM/HNL are to small a market, but the times would work since it’s a lot of tourists on package deals so for a low price vacation, they would take any times.

    For the EWR/JFK market the DOT will look at who can provide more feeder traffic CO or AA. I would think maybe CO could so they have a chance. I can’t see the DOT giving both CO/AA a route. But what do I know.

    I guess I’ll go with UA for SFO, DL for DTW, CO for EWR, and AA for LAX. At least that would give the big four equal entry into the airport.

  5. Cranky, once again I’ll compare Tokyo–West Coast with a market I’m intimately familiar with, New York–Tel Aviv. The markets are very similar in terms of flight distance and time-zone separation. For NYC–TLV, late-night departures are preferred: a typical weekday sees 3 flights (leaving at 21:05, 22:50, 23:50), compared to 2 afternoon departures (13:30, 15:55) and a less than daily evening departure (18:20). Moreover, historically the late-night flights are the more popular ones — whenever Continental goes down to 1x daily it is the 22:50 departure that they keep, and previous carriers (TWA, Tower Air) also used to prefer late-night departures. Other East Coast gateways also prefer late-night departures (PHL 21:25, ATL 22:45, YYZ 23:55).

    I think the main reason late-night departures are preferred is that they allow you a full day of work before the flight, and then you get to your destination in good time for dinner and bed. Now unlike Asia–West Coast, virtually all passengers flying to Tel Aviv get off there. So midnight departures from Tokyo are not great for people traveling beyond the West Coast gateway, but as LAFlyer and Christian said, these timings are great for people ending their journey at LAX/SFO/SEA.

  6. A separate issue: we’re talking slots here, not routes, right? What’s to prevent a carrier from getting a slot and then changing the US gateway?

  7. @ David SFeastbay:

    Damn! He beat me to it! This was EXACTLY what I was about to propose in my own comment (written before I read the other posts): “How about UA San Fran, AA Los Angeles, DL Detroit, and CO Newark? That will allow 4 major carriers 4 routes from separate US mainland sites (ie, no one overlaps with a given city or close pair like EWR and JFK).”

  8. LAFlyer wrote:

    Does anyone else find it interesting that Delta put in Detroit instead of Atlanta?

    No since it gives better connection options to more (some major) cities by it’s location on a map. It can feed down to/from the midwest, east coast, southern USA. With ATL no one really wants to connx in ATL and go back to the midwest or up to the east coast so it’s a smaller feed option to just the southern part of the U.S.

  9. Ron wrote:

    these timings are great for people ending their journey at LAX/SFO/SEA.

    Which frankly is where most people on these routes will end their journey. The DOT should be deciding on the basis of convenience to US travelers, but at the same time the majority on these flights will be Japanese people. On the west coast, my hunch is that those traveling for work will mostly stay in the metros where they land — which includes Silicon Valley for SFO, of course. Some of the tourists flying to LAX may end up in Vegas, but that requires only a few feeder flights set up at optimal times. Sorry, but there’s not going to be too much demand for flights to Boise originating at Haneda.

    DTW is another ballgame. Talking about west coast specifically here.

  10. The fact that the timing to/from the West Coast makes it attractive to LA is not the best “sell.”

    What’s the one thing Haneda has in abundance that Narita never has? DOMESTIC JAPANESE CONNECTIONS!!! American’s bid is boasting it’s alliance with Japan Airlines but guess what….all of JAL’s viable service has gone for the day by 10PM. Similarly, I’ve never seen a red-eye in Japan that gets to HND in time for the proposed 7AM flight to the US.

    I’ve worked with clients who have business in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita and Hakodate. Tokyo is certainly the lion’s share of the Japanese market but making it convenient for local traffic to the Japanese capital remains as short-sighted an approach as Narita’s traffic restrictions and distance has always been.

    You want Haneda so you CAN get elsewhere in the country without a cross-country bus transfer between the two airports. Otherwise, HND is certainly more convenient but Narita serves local Tokyo just fine in my opinion.

  11. Do we have similar restrictions for Japanese carriers?
    If not, we should. The Japanese get away with too much protection on their markets be it food, airlines, cars, etc…

  12. Japanese carriers have same restriction, and it is US side who puts after-midnight-departure, otherwise JAL and ANA can go east coast at 10pm while US carriers cannot (since arrive 10pm, only after midnight return is possible).

    Even with suck timing, airliners wants to launch anyway, because in 5 years or in 10 years, Haneda may open longhauls in daytime, eventually. Then the HND slots will be extremely valuable. We’ll see.

  13. Thanks for the great post, Cranky.

    @TheTravellingOptimist – good point about connections at Haneda. However I suspect fare pricing may discourage connecting pax. There should be a premium for the new services (which is why the airlines are so keen for the slots).

    There will be some interesting dynamics for both transpac and intra-asia over the next short while due to the opening up of Haneda to medium and longhaul flights.

  14. Actually there really isn’t a waste of time on the return flight from HND to LAX. Lets say you take a midnight flight from Tokyo on Wednesday morning, your arrival time in LA at 650pm is on TUESDAY. You will actually be going BACK in time six hours. So you can put in a full day at the office on Tuesday in Tokyo, go to HND, get your first class upgrade, get some sleep, land in LA at 7pm, go home and be back in the office in LA on Wednesday. It is a great gain in productivity as there is no day lost in travel and jet lag could be lessened by the evening arrival.

  15. You need to look at the LAX schedules again. You do not lose any days. You actually GAIN a day.

    It leaves Tokyo just past midnight, and arrives in Los Angeles the PREVIOUS day. So the flight leaves Tokyo at 12.05am on Tuesday, and arrives in LA at 6.10pm on Monday. That schedule is actually pretty awesome, in my opinion.

  16. The carriers that win, will they continue to serve NRT as well, or are they wanting to replace those flights with HND service?

    Continental’s NRT service from EWR has never been quite as successful as other long-haul routes (DEL, BOM, TLV etc.) and their 777s are really all tied up, which is why I’m wondering if they will continue the NRT service. Of course, the flight may be doing better now that they’re in with Star…

  17. a) Godzilla doesn’t fly. Gamera, Mecha-Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidrah do.
    b) Neither airport would give up the slots needed to run a reasonable service.
    c) NRT-HND makes as much sense as SFO-SJC…just drive already!

    To the question regarding premiums to HND, I doubt they’d be any more effective in the market than (non-existent) premiums at LHR over LGW. Competition will wipe those out for one thing. Time value plus the cost of transport between NRT and downtown may have some number but again, not likely it will be included in to the price of the ticket.

    The HND premium may only serve to keep customers flying to the cheaper airport, NRT, versus anyone trying to justify the expense to their corporation.

  18. The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    just drive already!

    Or in the case of NRT-HND, just take the train! It appears the Keisei Electric Airway connects the two airports, and is it really that much of a hassle to take the Airport Express from NRT to downtown Tokyo? I mean, are there business executives who demand that they get on another plane to connect domestically when trains run direct from NRT station throughout the country?

  19. Electric Airway, geesh. Meant to write “Keisei Electric Railway,” of course. (Actual name of the service.)

  20. BF….

    After a 10-12 hour flight from either the US or Europe, even with the bullet trains what is the elapsed time between Tokyo and, say, Kitakyushu at the northernmost tip of Kyushu Island? There is a road and rail link to this city but by the time the passenger clears customs at Narita, takes the “Airway” (smile) to Tokyo Station and then connects god-knows-how many times, will they be awake for all of that much less get there at a reasonable hour?

    Doubtful. Domestic flights within Japan rarely stretch beyond 2.5 hours (HND-OKA). Whomever agreed to the operating window of the four US slots was short-sighted and guilty of a huge disservice to the other markets within the country.

  21. @ thetravelingoptimist:

    Why use the most extreme example (“the northernmost tip of Kyushu Island”) to make your case? In point of fact, most Japan-bound travelers are traveling to major population centers they can reach as quickly by train as by plane.

  22. Hi Joe…

    Actually that’s not the most extreme example. Okinawa is the most extreme though it is primarily a holiday destination. On Kyushu itself the major business centers is at Fukuoka, a little farther south. Other major destinations on that island are Kumamoto, Oita, Nagasaki and Kagoshima.

    The shuttle market between Tokyo and Osaka is huge but for most US travelers there’s no need for this service since there is sufficient lift from the US to both cities nonstop.

    To the north, Sapporo is the big hitter but still far easier to fly to than take trains or highways. So here, a super-critical major population and business center is equally as extreme as relatively remote Kitakyushu, just as difficult to get to over land but strongly served via air service from Haneda which none of the four new slots are timed to connect with.

    Thin domestic markets was not the point I was trying to make. The physical terrain of Japan simply makes train travel a less convenient option for overseas travelers already tired from long flights, not well versed in the language or ready to invest the time even the fastest trains need to get to their destination.

    Japan is not Switzerland or the Netherlands when it comes to coordinating schedules between air and rail or making that kind of inter-modal transportation convenient or easy. Rather, Japanese domestic air service covers the country like flights up and down the US East Coast…just about any nonstop pair you can think of with a huge domestic hub centered where National Airport is…Haneda.

    Except those four US slots at Haneda (National) may as well be all the way out at Narita (Dulles) for all the connectivity they’ll provide to that saturated network.

  23. It seems clear to me from the comments that these flights times are perfectly good . . . for some . Others won’t like it, including me. But if enough people do like it, then that’s all that matters. Now, to answer a few questions . . .

    Ron wrote:

    A separate issue: we’re talking slots here, not routes, right? What’s to prevent a carrier from getting a slot and then changing the US gateway?

    No, the US will give route authorities here to fill the slots that are being offered at Haneda. They won’t be able to switch unless the DOT decides they can.
    LAFlyer wrote:

    Does anyone else find it interesting that Delta put in Detroit instead of Atlanta?

    I’m actually with David SFeastbay on this one. People in Tokyo are used to connecting via Detroit and it’s a good place to connect throughout the upper Midwest and east coast. I think it makes more sense for now.

    The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    What’s the one thing Haneda has in abundance that Narita never has? DOMESTIC JAPANESE CONNECTIONS!!!

    A great point that I failed to address. I was talking about this with a friend and I was originally under the impression that there were enough connections from Narita when the international flights arrived, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It would be huge to be able to connect to some of these cities that may require a change of airport now.

    Brian wrote:

    Actually there really isn’t a waste of time on the return flight from HND to LAX. Lets say you take a midnight flight from Tokyo on Wednesday morning, your arrival time in LA at 650pm is on TUESDAY. You will actually be going BACK in time six hours.

    Just because the dateline plays games doesn’t mean that you actually magically don’t miss any time. If you leave on Wednesday after midnight, that’s 7 or 8a on Tuesday on the west coast. You’ll be on the plane for the entire working day on Tuesday.

    Andrew wrote:

    The carriers that win, will they continue to serve NRT as well, or are they wanting to replace those flights with HND service?

    I’m sure this will simply augment existing service, but I don’t think anyone has said either way.

  24. Andrew –

    Given the late arrival times in to Haneda, as Cranky pointed out, if you’re only going to Tokyo these flights are fine. No airline in their right mind will transfer all service to Haneda, however because all of the intra-Asian connections they need, alliance partners or not, are at Narita.

    Can’t get to Singapore through Haneda. Even if you could the flight will have left by the time your new US service gets there.

    Kind of like train stations in Paris, the two airports currently serve distinctly different purposes. One is domestic, the other overseas and the Japanese have been accustomed to this since Narita first opened.

    If connections at Haneda ever become possible the danger for US travelers might be boarding the wrong flight for the connection they need, like going in to Midway when they really need O’Hare. That scenario, however, is a long, looong way off.

  25. Add me to the list of people who think the timing on these are awesome for the business traveler. Today, if I’m going NRT-SFO, my Star Alliance options both leave NRT before 5:30p. Last flight out on JL is at 6p. Even when UA adds its summer 7p flight, that still means I need to leave central Tokyo by 4p at the latest. Not ideal… and in the past this means staying in Tokyo one more night if I have a meeting that may run past 4p.

    I’d love a midnight flight back to the West Coast from a close in airport, plus I get one more dinner in Tokyo before rolling into HND. Sign me up.

  26. Have JL or NH indicated what their HND->US plans may be? When can we expect these flights to actually start? Thanks

  27. RL wrote:

    Have JL or NH indicated what their HND->US plans may be? When can we expect these flights to actually start? Thanks

    I haven’t heard a word, personally.

  28. Looks like the awarding has begun. AA has been given JFK-HND-JFK start in October 2010.

    So much for my quess was in February. I had said…. UA for SFO, DL for DTW, CO for EWR, and AA for LAX. Let’s see how I do with the other three awards…lol

  29. Heard form JAL yesterday, and this is exciting – y’all write from the Business perspective, with which my husband agrees, however I look at this as an educator who regularly takes students to Japan. Closer will be lovely, and Narita is rarely anything but a pain. My first trip to Japan was in 1977, so to Haneda, and I look forward to going back!

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