United Fights All Comers for Haneda Slots

American, Delta, Hawaiian, United

The fight over slots at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is ramping up once again now that at least one daily abandoned slot is in play. United has been the first and most aggressive at trying to gain more flying at the airport, but it won’t gain any ground without a fight.

This all came out of Delta’s decision to kill plans for the Portland (OR) – Haneda route. Delta had been flying to Narita for years, but it was able to get DOT to award it a Haneda slot for the route after it threw a fit. During the pandemic, there were waivers that allowed airlines not to use their slots but still keep them. Those waivers expire at the end of this month.

Both Portland and Honolulu showed weak demand post-pandemic, so Delta begged for flexibility to use those two slots elsewhere. It failed in that effort. After thinking through it, Delta decided that it would fly Honolulu – Haneda and try to make that work, but Portland was just a no-go. It opted to give back the slot to be used elsewhere.

Almost immediately, United jumped into the fray. It wanted that Portland slot which it would use to fly from Houston/IAH. United’s partner ANA already flies that 1x daily, but United wants its own metal on the route. Sure, it already flies 1x daily to Narita, but Narita has its own challenges, as we all know.

Because of the Godzilla problem (and probably a few other reasons), Haneda is by far the preferred airport for locals. This would include locals going to Houston but also those going through Houston. Think of all those Latin American connections that must look rather appealing. Narita is great for connections within Asia, so there is a purpose for both. But for the Japanese traveler in general, Haneda wins.

United didn’t stop there. There is a single night-time slot for Haneda to the US which is virtually unusable due to time zones for most service. Hawai’i is the exception. Hawaiian has had that split between 3x weekly from Kona and 4x weekly from Honolulu for awhile now. United, however, noticed that through winter, Hawaiian is only scheduled at roughly 1x weekly in each. So, United wants to pick up the rest.

The only other market where a night flight makes sense is Guam, and United wants to fly that currently-unflown route 5x weekly. Narita is well-served from Guam by Japan Airlines, Jeju Air, and United already. While Narita may not be preferred by locals, it is generally accepted as a primary low-cost/leisure airport. Guam works from there, but United thinks it can get a leg up by flying from Haneda as well.

In each of these cases, there is vehement opposition. On the Guam route, it’s Hawaiian. Hawaiian says it’ll be back up to full speed next year, and it just needs time to ramp up. United says that’s ridiculous, and if it isn’t ramped up by December 1, DOT should give the unused slots away. It’s unlikely there would be much interest from other airlines, so this is really United just trying to grab the asset, and in an aggressive way. Please enjoy United’s barbed response to Hawaiian.

Meanwhile for that Houston route, United’s only competition so far is from American Airlines. American wants that slot to go back into the New York/JFK – Haneda market. Didn’t it already fly that and walk away once? Oh yes, it did.

Between February 2011 and September 2011, American flew the route on and off. Then, from June 2012 through November 2013, it was a daily service. That was a total of 662 flights each way, all of which undoubtedly burned cash like you’ve never seen.

The problem at the time was that this slot was only for nighttime operations. That means from Haneda, the flight left just before 7am and arrived in New York at about the same time. In the other direction, the flight departed JFK around 6 or 7pm and arrived at the oh-so-undesirable hour of 10:15pm.

It was so bad that American eventually walked away and the slot was handed elsewhere. Now it wants back in since daytime slots are the norm.

This is somewhat of a surprise to me. I figured it would ask for a 2nd DFW flight, but maybe it made the calculation that a bid like that wouldn’t win. New York, however, might have a shot. After all, no US carrier flies from JFK to Haneda — yes, United flies from Newark — but both ANA and Japan Airlines fly double-daily. American is, of course, in a joint venture with Japan Airlines so it is not really missing out.

This route is a risk. Yes, it does fit American’s general profile of wanting to serve the big financial capitals from New York, but it used to fly to Narita until it left there in 2012. If Tokyo was that important, it could have gone back to Narita at any time. And at the same time, it has its partner JAL to do the heavy lifting anyway.

It’s a fact that slots make airlines do stupid things. And in this case, it’s not clear that any of these options make sense. That being said, we may not be done. Delta may very well have a plan of its own, though it would presumably just be an additional frequency to an existing hub. That might be tough to convince DOT to re-award the slot back to Delta, but eventually, it has no choice but to pick a winner.

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28 comments on “United Fights All Comers for Haneda Slots

  1. The AA JFK-HND may be a tactical ploy. Get the slot, and allow JV partner JL to drop the JFK route and use the slot to another AA hub. It’s all metal neutral so why not take a shot?

    1. Sorry but I couldn’t help myself!

      With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
      He pulls the spitting high tension wires down
      Helpless people on a subway train
      Scream bug-eyed as he looks in on them
      He picks up a bus and he throws it back down
      As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town
      Oh no, they say, he’s got to go
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      Oh no, there goes Tokyo
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      Oh no, they say he’s got to go
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      Oh no, there goes Tokyo
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      Rinji news o moshiagemasu
      Rinji news o moshiagemasu
      Godzilla ga Ginza hoomen e mukatte imasu
      Daishkyu hinan shite kudasai
      Daishkyu hinan shite kudasai
      Oh no, they say, he’s got to go
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      Oh no, there goes Tokyo
      Go go Godzilla, yeah
      History shows again and again
      How nature points out the folly of airlines
      History shows again and again
      How nature points out the folly of airlines
      History shows again and again
      How nature points out the folly of airlines
      History shows again and again
      How nature points out the folly of airlines

  2. I think DOT would likely give it to AA if they think they can make JFK-HND work. United would just shift the IAH route from Narita to Haneda (and ANA already flies IAH-HND), while this would be somewhat “new” service on different metal that wouldn’t result in a loss of Narita flying elsewhere.

    Delta’s behavior in this market has been ridiculous ever since HND opened up and DOT should tell it to go pound sand unless it proposes something it can profitably operate that isn’t another ATL/DTW/MSP frequency, which would probably result in overcapacity in those markets and the third edition of “Delta squats on money-losing Haneda slot because its management thinks the fact that it’s structurally weaker in Tokyo entitles it to prevent others from offering more commercially viable service”.

    1. But, but, but I thought Delta was the best airline ever? Or at least according to a certain commenter here.

    2. Are you suggesting that Delta, the greatest commercial endeavour in the history of mankind, is not acting in the best interests of consumers, nay, humanity as a whole? I’m sure a certain someone will be along to reeducate you shortly.

      Seriously, though, I do have a little sympathy for DL when dealing with Japan because they don’t have a JV or alliance partner in Japan, and if DL proposed a JFK-Haneda service, I’d favour their bid over AA’s because it would improve competition. (Or BOS-HND for that matter, although I doubt there’s enough demand.

      But I agree with you that any additional ATL/DTW/MSP service would just amount to slot-squatting.

      1. Well, DL is weak in Japan because of decisions that they have made over the past 20 years. They inherited an actual Tokyo hub from NWA and were toe to toe with UA in Japan back then. Over time, they dismantled the NRT hub in favor of ICN and their partnership with Korean Air. And, that’s ok – decisions are made for reasons. That said, there is NO reason to feel sorry for DL vis a vis Japan. They had Japan in their pocket and decided to back out and go in a different direction. So be it, but it doesn’t make them a decent contender for these rare slots.

        1. I think times have changed since the old NWA NRT hub. United is able to fly to a lot of these places via SFO without stopping in Japan. The 787 was actually a game changer in this regard.

        2. That’s the funny thing- they’d probably get JFK-HND over American if they actually bothered to apply for it. Although they might not have a partner on the Japan side, DL has more connecting feed on the NYC side than AA, especially with the NEA dead. But their management seems incapable of thinking outside the box after the pandemic (other than making up new kinds of executives like chief health officer) so they probably won’t do it.

          1. But their management seems incapable of thinking outside the box after the pandemic…….

            My spider sense is tingling. Could it be that someone is triggered by this and is preparing a lengthy yet “rational” rebuttal?

  3. “It’s a fact that slots make airlines do stupid things.”

    Classic Cranky quote right there. And so true. Still chuckling…

    1. Very true, but in this case they have no penalty for doing so. They are free to acquire, and if a slot ends up being unprofitable, they can simply reduce service to a minimum and then walk away with the only downside being someone else can take the slot.

  4. American requesting JFK-HND makes me inclined to believe that Delta will bid the same so it’s not the only US carrier left out of NYC-Tokyo. If they bid this, they should win since it will be a new competitor entering the market. They won’t win if they bid an additional frequency from an additional hub, which is probably what they want.

  5. United totally has a point about Hawaiian. The pandemic is over, and travel demand is up big time. Use it or lose it!

    1. Tho isn’t Hawaii-Japan flights tilted toward a Japanese o&d, and aren’t the Japanese still a little more cautious of traveling vs pre pandemic?

  6. Well, do we know if the Northern Pacific Airways, now known as the New Pacific Airways, will not be bidding for ANC-HND? This route is a shy of 3,500 miles according to gcmap and hopefully within the range of their 757-200 flying ETOPS (actually, are their 757-200 ETOPS?)
    If they do, can we assume they will knock out other contenders with ease? Route no one is flying, check. Airline without existing slot, check. They may even be able to make the less favorable night time slot work, check.

    1. I can’t see this happening. There can’t be material demand for local origination between ANC and HND, and unless they offer a connection over ANC to cities that don’t already have single-connection to Tokyo on an existing carrier, I don’t see the government awarding NPA a rare Haneda slot, unless no one else wants the night slot. If they fly to Tokyo, it’ll be to Narita.

    2. The flight time and time zones would really require departing Tokyo in the evening or late night, like flying Hawaii. A 6 pm departure would arrive around 8 am.

  7. Cranky,
    More Godzilla please. The heck with Delta and “Fast Eddie”. They have messed up Japan for decades.

  8. I think either CF of one of the readers with data access (Cirium?) could take the handful of routes discussed here and run the Before-vs-After Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) for the routes in question (based on seats?, based on flights/slots?) for the AA (HND-JFK) and UA (HND-IAH) applications.

    Legislative Branch “writes the Laws”, Executive Branch “enforces the Laws”, and Judicial Branch “interprets the Laws”. Biden Admin is taking a “whole of Government” approach (eg DOT and DOJ and FTC) and has just published new Draft M&A Guidelines that they claim are based on proven Judicial Case Law.
    Industry is aligning to lobby against these new draft M&A guidelines (eg Pharma).

    My “reverse-engineered” US Govt (DOT, DOJ/FTC) decision-making logic is thus

    1. Entirely new route –> “bring NEW value to consumer”
    2. Existing route with DECREASE in HHI –> “ADD new competitor to existing route”
    3. Existing route with INCREASE in HHI –> “existing competitor on route adds frequency and thus INCREASES their share%”

    I have zero idea how DOT (..or DOT + DOJ + FTC..) calculate HHI when a JV is in place (eg UA/ANA, AA/JAL), but surmise they may run the analysis both WITH and WITHOUT the JV partner’s capacity (seats?, slots?)

    I would imagine that DOT would look very negatively if AA added HND-JFK and then JAL dropped it and same goes for UA/ANA regarding HND-IAH.

    I’d imagine that each of AA, UA, and DL have excellent Corporate Counsel providing this all this input to Executive Management.

    I more than understand what segments each of AA, UA, and DL would like to fly for purely commercial reasons, but as these are regulated markets they know there are regulatory principles in play too.

    1. Don’t know about AA having “excellent corporate counsel”, judging by the Northeast Alliance disaster.

  9. Obviously AA does not see it this way but it is crazy to me they wouldn’t try from one of their other hubs, Phoenix, Miami, Charlotte or Philly, even split like 3 times a week to one and 4 times a week to another. Lower revenue but no nonstop competition and much better feed than JFK.

    1. Why? Those cities add very little connectivity that isn’t already served via LAX, DFW, or ORD (between AA and JL). No competition for a tiny O&D market isn’t worth all that much. Obviously there’s a balance between demand and competition (which is presumably why AA doesn’t serve NRT from JFK), but using a tightly-limited asset like a well-timed HND slot for a pure-connection market when you already have service to two mid-continent hubs which between them serve most of North America, it seems to me like the O&D demand of JFK (from which AA still has some ability to connect passengers to fill the plane) would win.

  10. I feel like they’d get it but they also probably ran the numbers and decided they couldn’t make it work, especially since that was the kind of flying the old US Airways excelled at- a market that’s lower-yielding, but also was all theirs.

  11. Since the US DOT has not opened a route case, the only thing UA is fighting for with its HND proposals is the hearts and minds of aviation internet participants, all of whom have an opinion but no say-so in the outcome.
    All United did by telling the world its plans to expand China service when word first came that new flights were coming was to allow AA to expand its DFW-China service w/ no competition (no surprise) but also to allow DL to soon become the only US airline flying from LAX to China and also the only US carrier service from the Eastern US (DTW) to China on top of its daily SEA-PVG route.
    AA and UA’s HND proposals both duplicate routes their JV partners already fly so it is likely that DL could win if they choose to apply from any of its 3 hubs that don’t have Tokyo service (BOS, JFK or SLC). It would be hard to imagine DL can’t make JFK-HND work esp. given that their execs just said that their NYC and BOS hubs are seeing above average revenue growth. But DL has a high standard for profitability projections in route selection which is why they made 60% more than UA flying the Atlantic during the 2nd quarter and nearly twice as much per seat mile flying the Pacific.
    DL execs also said that their JV hub at Seoul/ICN is doing very well and they expect to announce more ICN flights in the near future; DL’s Asia focus could be shifting more and more to S. Korea.
    UA’s announcement particularly highlights what I have said for years which is that NRT is becoming increasingly less viable as a hub – precisely because HND flights generate more revenue than those at NRT.
    If only AA and UA compete for the ex-PDX frequency, AA will get the nod based on its smaller size. Whether a new route will turn around AA’s 7 year string of losses flying the Pacific remains more than to be seen.
    At some point, Godzilla will be retired as the meaningful center of Tokyo aviation will reside once again at Haneda.

  12. This is copied and pasted from Airliners.net’s thread on Haneda slots.

    “DL top leaders today said point blank in employee Q&A that the slot will go to AA or UA. So sounds like they either have no expectation or no intent on moving it elsewhere.”

    Whether the above is accurate or not, Tim is technically correct when he points out that no formal route case has been opened. But once it has, the av geek community’s speculation will be just as meaningless as it is now. It’s kind of like reading sports fans predicting the outcome of future games – none of which has any bearing in what will happen. The existence of non-existence of a route case at this time is totally immaterial to the ultimate outcome of the process.

    1. since no backup route authority exists to DL’s ex-PDX-HND route, a route case is the only way the route authority will be redistributed unless you can tell us some other process the DOT will use.
      And, outside of a route case, AA and UA’s requests are “interesting” but have to be refiled as part of a route case. It is also possible that UA may change its request knowing what AA is asking for.
      AA should have the upper hand since NYC is a larger market and AA/JL has fewer HND authorities than UA/NH.

      And the DL exec statement is correct based on the fact that DL has requested nothing. If a route case is opened and closed and DL doesn’t bid, then it will be clear that DL doesn’t want to take on another Tokyo route.
      Not mentioned is that schedules show that DL is using the A330-200 during the winter from DTW to HND, a downgrade from the A350-900. They previously scheduled the A330-900 but pulled it. The 332 is the smallest plane DL has that can make the route.

      DL execs could be telling KE that they cannot continue to wait for KE to get the Asiana merger approved given that DL has obligations to its stockholders and pilots to find opportunities for DL to best operate its own fleet.
      The Israeli conflict will lead to fewer US services for all of AA, DL and UA so planes could be redeployed to other parts of the world.

      More internet bandwidth has been used to discuss this single route authority than anything in aviation blog history. It will come to an end soon just as the ability of US and Japanese carriers to operate dual hubs at Tokyo Haneda and Narita.

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