Anyone who thought that once consolidation was done we’d see the big three legacy carriers hand-in-hand enjoying a new era of peace and love hasn’t read American’s application for one of Delta’s slots at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. American rips Delta throughout the request, and that makes for a great read.
If you don’t know anything about Tokyo, here’s a handy image from a post I wrote back in 2010 explaining why Haneda is so desirable.
Haneda is just much closer to Central Tokyo and is generally the preferred airport if you can get there. Plus, you avoid having to deal with Godzilla. For years after Narita opened, however, only Narita was allowed to handle international traffic. Haneda was still an incredibly important airport with 747s packed to the gills flying around Japan, but it wasn’t until the last few years that international flights were allowed to start creeping in to Haneda.
When the US and Japan signed one of the silliest open skies agreements ever, US carriers were finally given access to Haneda. But “open skies” in this treaty didn’t include much in the way of greater access to the only airports that were really in need. The agreement allowed only 4 flights per day each way at Haneda by US carriers. As if that’s not restrictive enough, flights could only arrive Haneda between 10p and 7a. They could only depart Haneda between midnight and 7a. What a joke.
That didn’t stop airlines from rushing to grab as many slots as possible. The first allocation in 2010 gave one slot to Hawaiian for Honolulu service, one slot to American for JFK service, and two slots to Delta for both LA and Detroit service. With bad flight times, all the airlines except for Hawaiian struggled out of the gate.
A couple years later, Delta just couldn’t stand the losses on Detroit any longer and petitioned to have its slot moved to its new Seattle hub. That was granted in 2013. American called uncle later in 2013. Hemorrhaging at JFK, the airline just gave up the slot entirely. United ended up winning that slot for service from San Francisco.
Here we are just one year removed and American now wants a slot back. Why such an about face? Well there’s a completely different management team in charge now, post merger with US Airways. And the new team sees value in having that slot, apparently. In fact, it wants to fly daily from LAX, which seems completely insane since both Delta and ANA are in the market. I don’t like American’s decision to build up LA as a Pacific hub, but that doesn’t mean I can’t kick back and enjoy some fun reading.
The crux of the argument is that Delta isn’t really using its slot in Seattle. American calls it “near-dormant,” and that is true. This winter, Delta is doing the bare minimum. It’s flying one week every 90 days on the route and that’s it. In other words, between now and March 29, Delta will fly from Seattle to Haneda only 17 times. That’s nuts, but it’s technically enough to consider the slot active. What American is saying is that even if it meets the rules, we only have 4 slots and the feds should think about how to get the most value out of them.
But American’s petition goes beyond that. The airline calls Delta out for trying to “derail” open skies talks in Japan by only supporting it if Delta could move its entire Narita operation to Haneda. In the end, Delta may not have succeeded in shutting out Haneda entirely but “Delta garnered powerful political support for its position and brought enormous pressure on [the feds].”
The prose in this petition is masterful in cutting down Delta. For example, “Unlike Delta, when American decided to terminate its JFK-Haneda service, American did not hoard the frequency….” This is just fun.
But why exactly does American want this slot? It failed miserably last time, and really, nobody has done well except for Hawaiian in what is a completely different type of market. According to American, it learned from its last effort. Only flights from the West Coast will work thanks to the Haneda time restrictions. That’s the only thing that’s changed. While LA might work better in theory, American’s proposed flight times sit right on top of Delta in LA, and Delta isn’t doing all that great with it already. (Remember, American wants the Seattle slot from Delta, not the LA slot so that wouldn’t go anywhere.) It just sounds like a bad idea to me all around.
I will say that if Delta is going to waste its slot, then that should be reallocated to someone who will use it. I have to assume that American wants a slot so it can hold on losing money while hoping that the time restrictions will eventually go away. If that happens, then the slot becomes far more useful. Who knows when or if that’ll happen.
What happens next? Well comments come pouring in this month and then the feds have to decide what they want to do. It seems to me that this slot should be stripped from Delta since there are only 4 of them out there. Delta really isn’t using it. But I would be surprised if they just handed it over to American. I would think that if the feds want to take action, they’d open it up for others as well. That means we should see Hawaiian try for Kona again at the very least. That would probably be a better use.
What do you think should happen? Even if you don’t care, I highly recommend reading the short filing. It’s a fun one.