It’s hard to fathom just how bad the Seattle to Tokyo/Haneda route must have performed for Delta. After all, Delta isn’t shy about putting money into routes that it finds to be strategically important for one reason or another. But Seattle must have been so bad that the airline decided instead of having to obey the rules set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to retain the slot, it would rather give it up and let American have it. This may sound like a win for American, and it might be in the long run. But for now, American is just going to lose a bunch of money.
You’ll remember back in October when American decided to go after one of Delta’s Haneda slots. Though the US and Japan are said to have an open skies agreement, it’s really not “open.” The most desirable Tokyo airport, Haneda, is only allowed to have 4 flights per day from US-based carriers. And those flights can only operate at night, when Narita is closed. That sucks. But Haneda’s location makes it highly desirable.
Having just been to Tokyo, I can confirm two things. First, Narita is really, really, really far from Tokyo. In a country with incredibly fast and efficient trains, it still takes an hour to get from Tokyo Station to Narita. And if you drive? Bring survival supplies. It gets particularly hairy by Godzilla’s home. See, here’s a picture of him threatening me while I was in Tokyo (click to enlarge).
Haneda, meanwhile, is just so much easier. But here’s the thing. While the Japanese know how much easier it is, Americans don’t really care as much. Or they just don’t know. For Japanese airlines, these Haneda flights should be able to do much better. But for US carriers? It’s a tougher sell, especially since the flight times are rough.
Of the four slots, the one that has to be doing the best is Hawaiian’s Honolulu-Haneda flight. Why? Because it’s full of Japanese people and the flight times, while not great, aren’t nearly as bad because of the shorter duration and fewer time zone changes. United’s Haneda flight from San Francisco is probably the one with the next best chance of success. You have United’s SFO hub on one side and ANA’s joint venture to help on the other. While ANA has a Haneda flight to LA, it doesn’t have one to SFO. So that’s a nice fit.
Then we have Delta. After much shuffling, it had both an LA and a Seattle flight. The LA flight can’t be doing well, but it’s about to do a whole lot worse. The Seattle flight must have just been awful. That’s why Delta effectively wanted to shutter the flight for the winter, flying the bare minimum required.
American, on the other hand, had a slot that it used from JFK until it realized it couldn’t deal with the losses so it dropped it. But under new management, American wants that slot back. It’s not because it thinks it can make money with it (no friggin’ way), but it wants a seat at the table. When further liberalization occurs, it wants to have a slot it can use off the bat. That’s why American asked DOT to give it Delta’s slot.
DOT came back with its preliminary ruling suggesting that Delta could keep the slot but it had to fly it every day. If it didn’t, it would lose it and American would automatically get it. Delta fought that, saying the conditions were too onerous, but Delta lost. The final ruling came out on June 14 and three days later, Delta decided to walk away.
In a letter to the feds, Delta, as usual, got combative. It blamed the feds for requiring year-round service in a market that can’t support it. Then it acted like the disadvantaged child because “it lacks a Japan airline partner to provide connectivity beyond Haneda to points in Japan and other countries in Asia.”
Ah yes, that Seattle-Haneda flight arriving at 1015p would have been successful if only Delta could take advantage of all those midnight connections. (There are maybe 2 or 3 from JAL and ANA at that time of night that would matter.) But Delta does have a point. This is not how “open skies” should look, and Delta should be able to move its Narita hub to Haneda if it can get the slots. The artificial constraints are silly.
But now that Delta is walking away, that means American has to fly it on the LA-Haneda route. Keep in mind that ANA and Delta already fly this. With American in there, it’s just going to be a bigger bloodbath. I’m guessing American is looking to see if there’s a way it can put a Mesa CRJ-900 on this route with extra fuel tanks. That probably won’t be possible, so if you have American miles, get ready to use them on this route. But hey, American has a seat at the table as it wanted. It’s just going to have to pay a lot for that privilege.
Delta flies from Seattle through September 30, at which point American will presumably take over. I’m really surprised Delta gave up on this authority, but sometimes routes are just so bad that they can’t be justified.