Delta Wants To Change How It Serves Tokyo Haneda Airport. That Shouldn’t Be Allowed.

U.S. airlines aren’t able to just decide to fly to Tokyo Haneda airport. Based on an agreement with Japan, the Department of Transportation was able to assign 12 day time slot pairs to U.S. carriers, starting summer 2020. That’s up from just 5 slots pairs previously.

Before the pandemic American flew to Tokyo Haneda from LAX, Delta from LAX and Minneapolis, United from San Francisco and Hawaiian from Honolulu. Airlines applied to DOT, arguing for specific routes which would have the most consumer benefit. The decision criteria is supposed to be about what is best for passengers, not best for airlines.

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

These awards to Delta, allowing them to become the largest U.S. carrier at Haneda with almost everything they asked for, didn’t increase service between the U.S. and Tokyo. Instead it allowed them to drop their historic Tokyo Narita hub which they acquired from Northwest Airlines. They prefer Haneda for non-stop Tokyo service (since it’s far more convenient to Tokyo) and to use their joint venture with Korean to push connecting traffic through Seoul.

DOT’s rule on these slots was that, once service commenced, none could go dormant for more than 90 days or the route authority could be taken back and awarded to another airline.

With Japan late to re-open, and traditional managed business travel still depressed, U.S. – Japan flying hasn’t recovered nearly as much as domestic travel or flying between the U.S. and Europe.

Delta is asking to be allowed to keep all of its Tokyo Haneda flights while using two of them from wherever they wish “as part of a three-year pilot program” that would be available to other carriers as well.

  • It may be the case that what’s best for consumers now has changed compared to when the DOT made its assignments in 2019.

  • However DOT assigned routes, which were entrusted to specific airlines based on plans about how they’d serve those routes (for instance, what connections would be possible). They didn’t grant property rights in slots to airlines, and even said significant deviation from service plans would mean reconsidering what to do with the slots.

Delta dropped its Tokyo Narita hub, and was granted the largest presence at Haneda to serve specific routes because that service was deemed in the best interests of consumers. Now they want to treat those route authorities as a property right to do with as they wish. That ought to be a non-starter (can’t blame cronyist Delta for trying).

While I haven’t yet seen it published in the docket, reportedly American Airlines filed a response in support of the idea presumably because they’d like to move their Los Angeles – Tokyo Haneda flight.

As a current U.S.-Haneda slot holder, American supports the requested relief. Enabling flexible, market-based decision-making for U.S.-Haneda service is warranted in the current demand environment. Gateway flexibility for up to two current slot pairs would create public benefits by allowing all participating carriers to adapt their networks to the evolving conditions.

In a world where carriers were free to serve the airport from wherever they wished without limitation, then of course they should be able to choose where they serve it from. But since each airline is capped at the number of flights, to and from specific cities, that were proposed to DOT and determined based on a consumer benefit standard and not an airline profit standard airlines should operate what they committed to or return the slots to be re-allocated.

Hawaiian serves Tokyo with primarily leisure service that hasn’t recovered. They might not want more Tokyo service. But American Airlines – which only got half of what it asked for from DOT four years ago – has a joint venture with Japan Airlines and should certainly ask for more service (but American has become a largely domestic airline, skittish in its network planning). They’d be able to connect passengers beyond Haneda with their Japan Airlines joint venture. They might not get approval for their 2019-proposed second DFW flight or Las Vegas flight, but perhaps New York JFK or Miami would work.

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. Sometimes it’s worth it to reply to Tim with facts and actual history. Sometimes it’s just not worth it when he completely disregards and ignores Delta’s HUGE lobbying in ~2010 to move their failed Narita hub to Haneda at the expense of a true Open Skies and ignores what DELTA WROTE to the DOT in their slot requests for these slots in question.
    Tim, your intellectual hypocrisy either knows no bounds or your ignorance does. Sometimes I don’t which it is… Your spin jobs that completely ignore Delta’s own written statements to the DOT never cease to amuse.
    But I always do enjoy when you reply to yourself with a fake handle. Thanks for the chuckle and the inevitable reply from your fake handle saying it’s really “not Tim”… 🙂

  2. You do live in a fantasy world of your own imagination, MAX, convinced that anyone that states the truth must be a fake user name controlled by me and altering the facts of history because you can’t accept reality.

    If Delta really told the DOT to move its own NRT hub to HND and not grant Open Skies, you should be able to post a link and the quote from the DOT document with the appropriate citations.

    As **I** noted, the Japanese government decided early in this article’s replies, Delta saw the writing on the wall regarding the future of Narita and wanted Open Skies SO IT COULD TRANSFER ITS RIGHTS TO HANEDA. JAL and ANA were tired of seeing a US airline as the largest carrier across the Pacific and worked to dismantle the NW/DL hub by not allowing the beyond Tokyo rights to transfer to HND. Delta had the choice to stay at Narita or miss out on Haneda access.

    None of which changes that the Japanese market has shrunk dramatically and will be smaller and JL/AA and NH/UA are trying to operate two hubs at two airports in the Tokyo airport – a concept which has never succeeded at any other city in the world – while Delta moved its connecting traffic to Seoul with Korean, leaving Delta as the largest foreign carrier at Haneda with average Tokyo fares higher than for airlines from Narita – and that trend will accelerate.

    Narita is doomed as a hub – both due to Japanese government policy and pure economics; travelers will prefer HND over NRT every day and twice on Sunday and pay more for air service.

    Narita cannot survive as a hub for AA/JL and UA/NH based on lower yielding local Tokyo traffic and connecting traffic, esp. given the amount of capacity to other destinations in Asia nonstop from the US.

    Allowing airlines to shift routes at HND will help ALL airlines even if accelerates the demise of NRT as a premium longhaul airport, which the Japanese government planned all along but which covid has accelerated.

    Delta made the right strategic and anyone that thinks that AA/JL and UA/NH aren’t between a rock and a hard place by the very same issues are kidding, no lying, to the themselves. Attacking others that understand that reality is the height of those that cannot accept reality which anyone with any industry knowledge can see.

  3. @real pilot – i love how someone claiming to be a “real pilot” thinks they have any idea about the FAA route authority process and this rulemaking in particular

  4. American doesn’t want to cancel LAXHND, but remember it has TWO slot pairs locked to that route, not one.

  5. The FAA is not responsible for or involved in allocating international routes for the US

    AA is very likely to move one of its 2 LAX HND authorities to another gateway

    We could see several new Haneda routes by US carriers if this is approved

  6. Nothing about United which imo (though I can’t stand them or any of the US three lately) has the best argument for the slots? It’s posted online via other channels. Seems like a one sided article, and can’t fault Delta for trying. They’ll probably win out as they seem to have good lobbying – though United does as well. As for American, they have the worst lobbying and reasoning and while they or Hawaiian (even though tourism is down from Japan) probably deserve it – won’t happen. Delta or United here but I’d welcome to be proven wrong as that would mean progress

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