American Airlines Expects To Win Race Against United For New Tokyo Flight, Prepares To Move Crew

American Airlines is preparing to fly from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda airport, opening up transfers to New York for flight attendants who speak Japanese.

This suggests they’re confident in winning the Tokyo Haneda slot given up by Delta (which no longer wanted to fly from Portland) – that the Department of Transportation will award it to them rather than to United which has proposed using the slot to fly from Houston. This was reported based on comments and documents from American Airlines by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

After the third quarter American Airlines earnings call, I reported exclusively that the airline was telling employees it expected to win these slots.

Tokyo Skyline

American Airlines Should Be Awarded New York To Tokyo Haneda

I’ve been writing for months that DOT should award the slot being given up by Delta to American, rather than to United which submitted a plan to fly from Houston.

  • United wants to fly Houston to Tokyo Haneda. Their joint venture partner ANA already flies this. And United would move its Tokyo Narita flight to Haneda airport – no net increase in flying to Tokyo.

  • American wants to fly New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda. Their joint venture partner JAL already flies this. But it would be a net new flight from New York to Tokyo (a route American doesn’t currently serve).

United Airlines has attacked the American Airlines plan, saying that the DOT should look at connections served rather than the local market to determine consumer benefit. Now that the federal government has broken up its JetBlue partnership, American’s ability to serve connections in the New York market is far more limited. There were virtually no connections being served on the Portland – Tokyo route authority that’s being reassigned.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Economy

Adding Speakers Is Contentious

American Airlines needs Japanese speakers on board flights to Tokyo, just as they need Spanish speakers on board flights to South America. However this is a contentious issue among flight attendants. Senior crew object that more junior members of their union get to ‘skip the queue’ to work more desirable flights because of their language skills.

This is a contentious issue as part of APFA officer elections with ballots out right now. There are candidates who want more speakers on flights because where American assigns just one what happens is that when a passenger has an issue while that crewmember is on rest, they get woken.

American’s Flight Attendants Union Faces Infighting Between Seniority Groups

More senior flight attendants want fewer language speakers on flights, because it means they have better options when bidding for trips. Junior language speakers get to ‘jump the queue’ for the best long haul flying. This has been an issue in officer elections, and underscores the way that the union often works to benefit senior flight attendants at the expense of junior crew rather than working for all union members against the company.

In current contract negotiations, the union has proposed effectively “B-scales” for working reserve, where everyone that gets hired after a new contract gets signed starts off on ‘straight reserve’ (so they’d work reserve only for a couple of years) to reduce the rotating reserve requirements on current flight attendant union members.

And the union has actually signed on to disciplining its members over attendance, because they believe it helps senior union members avoid working reserve. I was given a copy of court testimony where Senior Vice President Brady Byrnes shared a call with flight attendant union President Julie Hedrick, where she signed off on the return of attendance points for cabin crew calling in sick (which had been suspended for Covid) because she was concerned that junior flight attendants calling out sick was causing more senior flight attendants to have to work reserve (AA was scheduling for more reserves to account for elevated sick calls).

In some sense it’s shocking that a union president would encourage the company to discipline her members for taking advantage of sick leave they’re contractually entitled to when they’re sick. But when understood in the context of “who? whom?” – that bringing this back could benefit senior crew at the expense of junior flight attendants – it is not so surprising.

American Airlines Flight Attendants

It’s also why first and second year flight attendants are paid so little that they can be eligible for food stamps so that more senior crewmembers see higher pay rates. The union could shift relative pay rates in negotiations but chooses not to.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary – Why would AA be seeking Japanese-speaking FAs for LGA if flights are departing from JFK? Is LGA the only NYC base?

    I could see Japanese speakers at check-in if trying to check in or connectJapanese-speaking traffic via DFW or ORD.

  2. Nothing more American than wanting to keep out people who have more skills because you think it will lower your stature relative to theirs.

  3. @PDT: LGA is the official domicile of all NYC based crew at AA. Even a NY based AA 777 pilot is officially based at LGA, rather than JFK.

  4. Absolutely pathetic and idiotic for them to be complaining about not getting a job that they don’t have the skills for. Maybe these senior FAs should do some duolingo while sitting in the galley on their phones instead of playing candy crush. Might help them get these routes!

  5. Sky waitresses???? You should go to see what we do at our training!! We are on board primarily for your safety!! In any airline, seniority dictates your work schedule, vacations and being ion reserve!

  6. @Jay “We are on board primarily for your safety!!” Hahahahahahahahahaha. You are on board primarily for your paycheck and benefits.

  7. United will be the real loser in all of this as their grip on the NYC-Asia market is weakened.
    As with most NYC routes, AA will underperform but they will add some US carrier competition.
    It is noteworthy that DL had to give notification to not use the PDX-HND slot so that the process could begin to reallocate it but the new award avoids service during the winter season which DL wanted to avoid serving.
    I still expect that this is yet one more step in a process that will ultimately lead to more US-HND frequencies being allocated and DL and UA will ultimately add what they want which is all HND for UA and DL adding JFK-HND when the currency exchange environment is more favorable. Right now, other longhaul routes make more sense for DL including the addition of JFK-ICN when a decision comes regarding the Asiana-Korean merger which should be in a couple months.

  8. Tim, don’t you mean DL will be the big loser since they’ll fall even further behind in the US3 NYC-Asia market?

    Even if DL adds JFK-ICN, they’ll still have a fraction of what UA and Star have to Asia. UA alone has double daily to Tokyo and double daily to DEL, all supported by the strongest NE hub of any of the US3.

    DL will even be smaller than AA, and that’s saying something.

  9. As an AA FA based at “LGA” but flying out of JFK international I find this article derogatory to FA’s. There is no “infighting” between speakers and senior non-speakers. I love my Jr. speakers. This is not a contentious issue. Gary, why do you continue to do this to us? Look at the horrible comments and assumptions made about AA FA’s. We work hard for our customers and can’t wait for new flying to come to NY. Too bad you continue to perpetuate this stereotype.

  10. If younger FAs have the language skills necessary for a particular job of course they should be the ones hired first for it. If you don’t have the skills, either take time to learn them or stop b*tching.

  11. @Jay

    Safety?? You funny!

    And yes we know seniority drives everything which is why the service sucks!

  12. Language of destination (LOD) speakers are held to a high standard by US carriers. It’s not a matter of Duolingo or Rosetta Stone.

    The expectations are enormous: a more senior route, but that’s the only route you fly. Unless you pick up trips during open time, etc.

    I cannot imagine trying to pay rent in the New York area on junior flight attendant wages… even with speaker pay and Japan per diems. You wouldn’t even be able to afford the bus or subway to get to the airport. Then imagine the exhaustion of pushing a cart for 13 hours across the International Date Line.

  13. Mark,
    actual facts and data argue w/ your assertion
    According to actual financial statements, DL generates half the Pacific revenue of UA and AA generates half the Pacific revenue of DL.
    In terms of the size of joint ventures, DL plus KE is the largest transpacific JV.

    DL has been patiently waiting for a decision on KE-OZ to add ICN flights. They are adding a second DL ATL-ICN – in addition to KE’s ATL-ICN – because ATL is not served by any other Asian or US airlines to any other destinations in Asia.

    There is no chance that AA will come close to DL’s size.
    It is very possible that UA’s lead across the Pacific will be cut as DL takes delivery of the A350-1000s, adds more A359s that are already on order, and converts some of the ex-Latam A359s to transpacific/standard DL 4 class configurations.

    As much as the internet loves to believe DL is dead in the water in Asia, they have been waiting for all of the right ingredients to fall in place to regrow Asia after the Tokyo hub and that will happen in a big way over the next 5 years.

    UA’s use of 789s against DL A350s just won’t be either cost or size competitive. Using the 777Ws won’t be cost competitive or offer the range.

  14. If the flight attendants wish to compete for those routes, learn the language that is necessary for it. This argument is one of the reasons why USA airlines rank low on transpacific cabin service. I flew on Asiana starting on the 16th at LAX and ending on the 17th in Phnom Penh. All of the flight attendants were at least bilingual and were very helpful.

  15. Facts : pathetic worthless loser and delta mouthpiece Tim Dunn is defending another worthless loser and AA mouth piece JonNYC cuz both airlines stink like hell when it comes to NYC. The traveling public of NYC has spoken and no one likes DL or AA, which is why neither airline is ever #1 in NYC.

  16. Henry
    Too bad actual facts show that Delta is indeed the number one airline in the local New York City market and you can’t accept it. None of which changes that united is losing its script on the Pacific, which is exactly what I said months ago would happen not only with Delta aircraft order, but also with the shift in the New York City to Asia market. And, not to be mean, but real, let me not hesitate to remind you that United has 90 aircraft grounded right now. They won’t retain any titles with more than 15% of their domestic fleet grounded.

  17. Apparently airline labor unions favor seniority more than competence. At least that’s my take on the situation.

    I’m a little bit surprised that Delta didn’t ask for the authority to serve JFK-Haneda. After all, Delta dominates JFK and, as the world’s only PERFECT airline, deserves special consideration, at least according to one person who regularly posts here, This individual states that his opinions (to which he’s entitled) are facts (which no one is entitled to invent). As the individual n question points out in his comment above, Delta probably didn’t apply to serve JFK-Heneda because it believes it has better use for its valuable assets. It’s pretty obvious that Delta’s management is quite astute, and since they have real data to work with (as opposed to DOT data), they probably have a good handle on where to deploy the company’s aircraft. Finally, the above referenced poster asserts that American will “underperform” (whatever that means in his mind) on JFK-HND. That’s probably wishful thinking on his part – because (based on his comments over the years) he apparently wants to see American Airlines liquidated.

  18. flew this route many times as a non native Japanese speaker, when Delta flew this, they had the foresight to also have a Chinese speaker as there are many going from other parts of Asia and also to South America. Unions tend to push for as few speakers as possible and AA is more interested in negotiating concessions than better customer service with more speakers. They are also getting ready to use narrow body aircraft for some transatlantic routes, pushing the envelope on how long a passenger can endure a more confined space. Looks like they learned nothing from previous use of 757s JFK to Europe which I also worked often. It’s all about using less crew and burning less fuel.

  19. Ghost
    I was hoping 2024 would bring a new Hope on my for you, but we are all clearly still hoping that you will get the help you need. Nobody wants American to be liquidated.
    Delta clearly did not apply for the Haneda flight because it cannot make money given the poor exchange rate between the yen and the dollar. We need only look at American’s track record with JFK and Boston flights to see that it isn’t a stretch at all to believe that American won’t do well. But at least American has its fleet all operating like Delta.

  20. Tim you talk about Delta’s future Pacific growth during the next 5 years. Well just as you may know, United is not sitting idle in the Pacific when it comes to growth and considering all of the Pacific competition; United has done very well.Especially in the last two years with added frequencies and new destinations. Wait until you see the growth coming to the Pacific over the next 3 years: 58 new 787’s being delivered and only 4 planned 767 retirements over the same time frame. Basically UA’s widebody fleet will grow from 220 to 270. The executives at UA made it very clear that they plan to make the Pacific’s largest single airline even much bigger and that’s not including the full China schedule. By the way ask the Delta employees how they feel about their “payload restricted A359’s on the SYD and JNB flights from the U.S.

  21. The problem is not necessarily with Speakers in general, it is the number of Speakers that AA chooses to put on flights, e.g., on trips to China pre-pandemic on the 77W, they were placing four speakers so a third of the cabin crew were Speakers. They only needed two.

  22. put yourself in the position of the passenger, wouldn’t you prefer that people speak your language? AA had 3 speakers, 2 economy, one premium.

  23. @Janis Wayfair – Wrong. You are out of touch. You just made an intrinsically biased comment without even meaning to. You said, “I love MY junior speakers.” That’s a biased comment because you are asserting ownership over the speakers, and assuming that the trips is YOURS since you are senior to them. I am certain that you didn’t even realize how your wording sounds. Your comment alone proves that senior/junior or non-speaker/speaker animosities do exist.

  24. Jay – FAs are definitely NOT there primarily for your safety. That’s some garbage slogan made up by the union. I’ve been an FA for 25 years. I signed up to do this job because I’m a people person and wanted to provide memorable service to passengers, (and go on fun trips around the world while doing so). I never said, “Oh, I want to be a flight attendant so that I can keep people safe on the plane.” No one says that. I didn’t sign up to be a crossing guard or a safety patrol officer. We are there PRIMARILY for serve, and in the off chance there is an emergency, we are ALSO there for safety too. I don’t know what goes on at American, but day at work is 90% service related, and 10% safety…. It takes 2 hours to complete a meal service on the 777, but my pre-flight safety checks and briefing took 10 minutes… There’s no way that that makes me there primarily for safety.

  25. @x: These are flights to/from the United States. Almost all on board will speak at least some English.

    One speaker on board should be plenty.

  26. on such long flights there is a mandatory crew rest break, so do we wake the speaker up if there is an issue? please put yourself in the position of a passenger, what if you were flying from Mexico to China and only one person spoke English?

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