Delta Air Lines Concedes: United Or American Will Take Our Slot At Tokyo Haneda Airport

There are a limited number of takeoff and landing slots at Tokyo’s convenient Haneda airport that have been made available to U.S. airlines. These were agreed to between the governments of Japan and the United States, and so the U.S. Department of Transportation had to decide which airlines to let use them.

DOT is supposed to make a judgment about which proposals are best for consumers. If an airline doesn’t want to fly the route anymore, they can stop doing so and return the slots to DOT – who then makes a judgment about what’s best for customers.

American has a joint venture partner in Japan, Japan Airlines. United has a joint venture partner in Japan, ANA. Delta doesn’t have a Japanese airline partner, and DOT gave Delta the most Haneda slots. Here’s what they decided to do:

These airlines are now allowed to serve Tokyo Haneda airport from:

  • American Airlines: Dallas-Fort Worth; Los Angeles
  • Delta Air Lines: Seattle; Detroit; Atlanta; Portland; Honolulu; Los Angeles; Minneapolis
  • Hawaiian Airlines: Honolulu
  • United Airlines: Newark; Chicago O’Hare; Washington-Dulles; Los Angeles; San Francisco

Delta got most of what it wanted, though it didn’t actually use that to grow service in Tokyo. They pulled down Tokyo Narita flying and stopped their connecting flights into Asia. They connect passengers over their joint venture partner Korean Air’s hub in Seoul instead.

The airline decided that they no longer want to fly Portland – Tokyo Haneda. They asked DOT to allow them to fly something else with those slots instead. But that’s not how it works, and DOT said no – they get to decide where the slots are used, based on a judgment about consumer best interest, they aren’t meant to be property rights of the airline who gets to pick.

Now that the Department of Transportation has to decide who gets to use the Portland slots Delta is giving up:

  • American Airlines has asked to fly New York JFK – Tokyo Haneda. I’d love to see it, but their joint venture partner Japan Airlines already operates the route. So this isn’t new competition, or a new option for customers.

  • United requested to fly from Houston, duplicating service by its joint venture partner ANA.

I thought Delta would have a good chance keeping the slot if it proposed a New York JFK flight (a new competitor on the route in an important market, and ironically one with much better connectivity now that the Department of Justice forced American and JetBlue to break up their partnership). I also thought that the best shot of winning would be new service from a market that currently lacks a non-stop to Tokyo, such as Miami (or Orlando).

Delta no longer has connecting options in Asia for a Tokyo flight, so needs to operate Tokyo from a big local market. American and United offer connections beyond Tokyo flying with their Japanese partners. Delta, I think, could have tried Miami and benefited from connections from South America on their partner LAN. American operates a hub in Miami, with connectivity both from South America and domestically. And Miami lacks Asia flying.

However Delta is telling its employees that the slot will go to American or to United, as confirmed by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

United currently flies Houston to Tokyo Narita and would replace that flight with Haneda service. American does not currently fly New York to Tokyo. While American’s ‘plane would have to come from somewhere’ there would at least, on net, be an increase in New York – Tokyo flying if DOT awards the slot to American and there would not be with an award to United. United, though, has been by far the most aggressive in pursuing the slot throughout this process.

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. You really think that feed from
    Could have made a delta flight from Miami to Tokyo viable?? Latam can fil up those flights to Miami with higher yielding local traffic. Those flights are full already. No need to dilute it with lower yielding connecting traffic

  2. It’s a good thing you posted this on a weekend Gary, because you know who would be foaming in his mouth by now with such a headline about DL.

  3. @Chase:
    1 – He Who Shall Not Be Named will dispute this because it comes from a “so-called Aviation Watchdog”.
    2 – He Who Shall Not Be Named will say that DL ran the numbers and decided that JFK-HND wasn’t feasible and therefor DL is the smartest, best, gosh-darn all around well-liked airline.
    3 – He Who Shall Not Be Named will call this whole blog post meaningless speculation because a route case has not been opened.
    4 – He Who Shall Not Be Named will respond to these 4 points with a minimum 8 paragraph response calling out how each one of these points is not accurate, without understanding that all these points are purposely mocking him and nothing else.

  4. It’s unfortunate there is not more true competition on these routes esp from West Coast. I guess Japanese people don’t want skypesos (does anyone??)

  5. “They pulled down Tokyo Narita flying and stopped their connecting flights into Asia.”

    Such a dumb decision. It screwed up so many connections, some of which don’t work well anymore (or at all), like Guam and Saipan

  6. Gary needs to be more considerate next time by adding the national suicide hotline in posts with negative Delta coverage.

  7. Several mistakes in this post and a statement:

    1: DL’s partner is LATAM. Not LAN. They haven’t existed for like over a decade.

    2: Hawaiian also had a Haneda slot from Kona I believe and they also “let that go” much like DL let Portland go.

    3: Timmy Dunn is a False Prophet! #Deltaggeddon

    4: American should win this slot. United got more slots than them (5 vs 2, this would make it 5 vs 3), and this would be a new route not replacing a different one. Period.

  8. Y’all is the comment section asking for PHX and AUS to get a direct flight to HAN are INSANE. Those cities couldn’t support a 737 size plane to NARITA (more connecting traffic and less premium) much less a more premium route to service Tokyo itself. There are already PROVEN and successful long haul routes from several hours drive away in LAX & DFW/HOU. Gimme a break and be REALISTIC. Now AA (or MAYBE DL) could attempt to try a MIA flight seasonally, but otherwise Japan is VERY well covered across the US and I don’t think we’ll be seeing too many new cities pairs added anytime soon.

    Also, Timmy Dunn is a FALSE PROPHET! #Deltageddon

  9. @ben G
    1. “LAN as a brand hasn’t existed.” LAN as the actual operating certificate is alive and well. LAN chile, LAN Peru, etc
    TAM is still out there as well as an operating certificate. If you go on flightaware it’s quite apparent when you see the LAN chile planes flying like the LAN Peru, etc
    LATAM operates almost like multinational holding company selling all the tickets for the LAN affiliates and TAM under the latam branding

    2./3/4. Agreed 🙂

  10. Possible Scenario:
    -AA awarded HND-JFK
    -JL drops one HND-JFK frequency
    -JL adds one frequency to DFW or LAX (which is what AA most likely prefers but knows is a longshot)

    Metal neutral JV, back door entry into preferred market.

  11. This does not surprise me about Delta. When Delta took over my favorite airline at the time, Northwest, everything started changing for the worse. Fortunately it pushed me into flying Asian airlines and I am now used to their better product.

  12. Off topic but D1 seats on the A350 are the hardest torture racks in the industry and the cheapskates don’t even offer a mattress pad. They’re a blot clot waiting to happen.
    I just flew AA to HND yesterday and UA to ICN last month. Both superior to DL in almost every way. I don’t get the brand loyalty with these jokers.

  13. These JV’s really suck for competition. How exactly does less service and incentives to fix prices help the public?

  14. Delta appears to be focused on making SLC a genuine hub, increasing gates, flights, and domestic and international connections. When it proposed “something else” to the DOT for the PDX-HND route, did it propose SLC-HND? SLC makes a lot more sense than PDX to me.

  15. Gary –

    I know MIA is lobbying hard for a nonstop to Asia but cannot depend on traffic from Latin Am to make it viable. Brazil is the biggest market for Lat Am to Asia, and that traffic generally flows over Europe or via the the ME due to no visa requirement.

    It’s a tough sell in Latin America to convince someone to do an Intl to Intl connection in Miami as they 1) need a visa to transit, and 2) there is no “sterile” transfer – ie pax must clear US Immigration and reclear Security for the onward flight.

    Orlando is a long shot. Hawaiian could not make HNL work out of O’town.

  16. first, the DOT has not opened a route case so DL has no reason to respond to UA or AA.
    second, DL execs are correct that, based on current interest, AA or UA would win the contest IF IT WERE HELD TODAY
    third, when the DOT route case opens and closes and DL doesn’t ask for anything, THEN we will know DL’s intentions
    fourth, NYC-Tokyo is one of the largest and richest O&Ds in the world. It is also a large Delta hub.
    fifth, if DL passes on JFK-HND, they are doing so because there are other routes that will generate higher revenue. Their execs did just say that they will announce more service to ICN and that their JV partner routes have double the profit margin to non-JV partner hubs.
    sixth, DL made almost 2X as much per seat mile as UA flying the Pacific in the second quarter and 60% more flying the Atlantic even though UA was larger in both regions. AA hasn’t made money flying the Pacific in 7 years. DL has simply established that financial performance matters more than putting dots and lines on a map.
    seventh, AA has the upper hand between itself and UA based on current proposals because AA is smaller and the NYC market is larger. JL flies very premium configured aircraft so AA can serve the masses.
    eight, UA which started all this speculation might walk away empty handed. They jumped out first to tell everyone that they wanted to fly SFO to PEK and PVG daily when news broke that the Chinese were allowing new flights, now starting in a couple weeks. AA announced more flights but DL will now get the same number of new frequencies as UA and become the largest US carrier to PVG, not serve Beijing, have daily service from SEA and the only US carrier service from LAX to China, plus have the only eastern US service to China (DTW-PVG). Sometimes letting the world know your plans before everyone else just lets everyone else refine their own plans.

    reportedly, a DL widebody order is also nearing completion with maintenance overhaul rights on the GEnx engine of which AA and UA will operate over 250 copies and DL might get those rights with an order 1/10th of that size. DL will make higher margins fixing AA and UA’s 787 engines than AA or UA will actually using those planes.
    You know what they say about karma.

  17. Delta is free to ask for a route. What do they want? Nothing?

    Could they make JFK work?
    Could they make LAS work the way AA originally asked for?
    Could they make another LAX flight work?
    Could they make MCO work?
    Could they make GUM work like Northwest did?
    Could they make SLC work?
    Could they make a combination of SLC / MCO / LAX work as far as 2 or more frequencies a week?

    Only DL knows.

  18. roberto,
    show us on the doll where the man touched you.
    The butt hurt is yours and those that not only can’t admit that what I said is true but can’t even debate it.
    Delta plays the long game.
    More internet bandwidth has been wasted talking about one single route authority that will not move the dial in global aviation.
    And the complete irony will be when UA comes up empty handed after pushing the whole thing.

    of course Delta is the only one at this point that knows what they will do.
    They don’t have to make any move because the DOT hasn’t opened a route case.

    Delta will continue to take the long game, choose routes based on profit standards that are higher than any other US airline – and higher than most global airlines – and will develop its non-transportation revenues, including aviation maintenance services which deliver higher margins than transportation services, of which Delta already leads the industry.

  19. In spite of Tim already backtracking on what he said in the past about would happen in the future, including DL becoming larger than UA from NYC to Asia, he just spewed an argument explaining every possible defense of what could happened going forward. lol

    All bases are covered.

    Tim, it’s ok to admit DL isn’t the strongest in Asia, can’t make all of their slots work, and won’t even ask for what seems like obvious wins, all while AA and UA want to continue to grow Japan.

    If they had the widebody fleet and order book that UA has, they wouldn’t have to opt out of a coveted HND slot, while setting themselves up long term for the future.

    Just admit it. You’d be surprised how much credibility you gain.

  20. @Benjamin G

    HA did NOT give up their KOA-HND slot. The route is resuming at the end of October.

  21. Mark,
    for someone that is dying to pin the flip flop on me, you have not even accurately gotten right what I said.
    I said that Delta will begin NYC to Asia service and eliminate the single US carrier advantage that United has.
    If Delta starts JFK-ICN and AA starts JFK-HND, that objective will still be accomplished. AA is not going to gain enough to overcome DL’s much larger size from NYC.

    and you and others can’t seem to grasp that DL is the most profitable airline by ASM flying the Pacific and that is their goal.
    If United or American wants to spew more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other transpacific airline and make less money doing so, feel free to tout THAT accomplishment.

  22. When UA & AA surpass Delta in overall customer satisfaction, I will consider flying with them. Everything will work out in Delta’s favor. They’re simply better in all categories. Fly Delta Airlines!

  23. let’s not forget that DL originally intended to MOVE HND slots, not drop anything.
    Perhaps the extra time since that original request has shown that there is no viable market to move any HND slots to but DL’s intention was to move slots.
    It has to be assumed until DL officially, not through an employee meeting which is not public, will follow through w/ a request for the PDX-HND frequency, the only route it is dropping.
    They may not file a new application but they dn’t have to say anything right now

  24. @Tim Dunn – “let’s not forget that DL originally intended to MOVE HND slots, not drop anything.”

    yes they wanted to treat the Portland-Haneda slot as their property, rather than public property and the DOT said ha ha that’s not how any of this works.

  25. no, Gary, Delta ASKED to move the PDX route.
    If DL intended to treat it as their own property, they would not have gone through the process.

    Multiple airlines including AA and UA have done the exact same thing. You do remember that AA just walked away from 2 US-China routes? or that UA is not using all of its S. Africa frequencies

  26. A couple of thoughts:

    Tim Dunn is correct about one thing. There’s no formal process to reallocate the former Delta slots at this point. I’m pretty sure one will be opened shortly, so he’s being a bit nit picky. One can argue the slot moving issue two ways. One is DOT’s position. The other is that Delta was at a bit of a disadvantage because United and American’s JV partners can move their slots anytime they wish. It’s interesting that American supported Delta’s request to be able to move a couple of slots, while United didn’t.

    In spite of Tim’s protestations, it’s quite possible that Delta won’t apply for a new Haneda slot. He points out – and I agree – that Delta may have a higher and better use for its aircraft. He even “stole” one of my old lines. Airline profits aren’t tied to the number of pretty lines on an airline’ route map.

  27. see, Ghost, we do have a lot in common.
    AA figured out that Scott Kirby’s mindset of chasing routes didn’t translate into profits.
    DL turned its Pacific network around from being a perpetual money loser both before the NW merger and in a few short years after the merger as Delta, to the great protestation of alot of av fans ended its own service south of Japan and S. Korea and now funnels that traffic over ICN.
    At the same time DL has opened several new cities including SYD, AKL, and PPT. DL now makes more money per seat mile across the Pacific than AA or UA.

    DL played by the rules in terms of asking for and then complying w/ the DOT’s decision regarding PDX-HND. They do not have to publish any decision until the DOT opens a route case. My noting that doesn’t amount to a protestation.

    A potential announcement of a DL widebody order will say loads about DL’s intent to fly ULH. The A350 in either version can do that; DL will have 16 of the most capable A350-900s by 2026. If they say “that is enough” and switch to the 787-10 which is rumored, they intend to focus on long haul Pacific (western US to Japan, S. Korea and parts of China) rather than ULH Pacific or at least will use the 16 of the most capable A350s they will have for that role and use “lesser” A350s and 787-10s for very cost efficient international growth elsewhere in the world but not as far from the US

  28. @DesertGhost – “Delta was at a bit of a disadvantage because United and American’s JV partners”

    DELTA’s disadvantage isn’t supposed to matter to DOT.

    If creating COMPETITION for those JVs benefits consumers, then DOT may wish to award more slots to Delta (they did, though Delta used them to move flights from NRT to HND not to add TYO capacity).

    But Delta’s relative position and profitability is not supposed to factor here as such.

  29. Gary,
    I know you argue alot of things just to keep page views coming but you are completely wrong about the DOT considering Delta’s relative position at HND.
    The DOT ALWAYS considers the size of each competitor in a market as part of their process. AA was awarded the LAX-Beijing route over DL because AA was smaller to China and had no west coast gateway to Beijing while DL already flew there from SEA.
    The US-Japan bilateral is Open Skies but with limited access to Haneda which is now the most valuable airport to serve. Japan has slowly re-opened HND to US carriers and it is clear that Narita will increasingly no longer be viable for US carriers. DL did not try to operate dual NRT and HND flights when it became clear that it could move all of its then-existing routes to HND.
    The DOT SPECIFICALLY granted DL more routes because of the joint ventures which AA has with JL and UA has with NH. Those two JVs each provide AA and UA with much greater access to HND than DL has.
    Multiple aviation internet fans for AA and UA recognize that DL would win a route IF they applied.
    and the best thing that could happen for competition is for UA to NOT get another HND route authority from DL or HA so that NH and UA, the largest holder of HND authorities to the US, force the Japanese government to open up more space at HND for there to be true Open Skies.
    If UA wins the route, they will drop IAH-NRT getting them one step closer to operating just from HND.
    if AA wins the route, JL will not drop a flight; JL operates premium configured aircraft and cater to a very different market which AA simply does not serve.

    and the chances are high that DL will start JFK-HND at some point in the future but may also drop another flight; remember, they asked for the authority to move TWO flights, were denied to move anything, and another is likely underperforming but DL isn’t willing to let another flight go.
    At some point in the future, they may drop another flight and start JFK-HND but has better profit opportunities with the next couple widebody aircraft and are not willing to put more capacity into HND.

  30. @Tim Dunn – you are wrong, the size of an airline in a market is *instrumental* to competition -> consumer benefit, not for its own sake. Consumer benefit is the standard, not relative benefit to one business over another.

  31. Tim, please do share more information about these “Multiple aviation internet fans for AA and UA” so that I can read every word they write so that I can be as well-informed as you are.

    Give me a break.

  32. this story has been covered on multiple sites.
    If you bother to read any of them for any length of time, you know where people’s loyalties lie.
    many people who support AA and UA recognize that the DOT would choose DL if DL came out w/ a proposal that is as good or better than AA or UA’s and DL would win just because both AA and UA are proposing to duplicate routes their JV partners operate

  33. AUS-HND would be interesting but far too adventurous for Delta.
    We need more airlines to compete so we can have more interesting routes.

  34. I see that Delta has the Haneda – Honolulu route going, How is it going? is it safe to book a flight on that route for July or will the flight be cancelled?

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