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.
However Delta 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. That’s not how any of this works. Delta said they wanted to fly to Portland. DOT said that was in the public interest. They did not grant a property right to Delta to do with as it pleases. So Delta gave back the slot, and DOT has to decide what to do with it.
- American Airlines has asked to fly New York JFK – Tokyo Haneda. Their joint venture partner Japan Airlines already operates the route. This isn’t new competition, it’s another flight from the same group of carriers working together.
- United has asked to fly Houston – Tokyo Haneda. Their joint venture partner ANA already operates the route. This isn’t new competition, it’s another flight from the same group of carriers working together. And it’s not even more Tokyo service. This would simply let United fly Houston – Haneda and drop service from Houston to Tokyo Narita.
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). But the filing deadline has passed and it appears Delta did not ask for another city with which to use the slot.
The best idea from a public interest standpoint, I thought, would be new service from a market that currently lacks a non-stop to Tokyo.
- Miami airport doesn’t have a single non-stop to Asia
- Neither does Orlando
- Las Vegas has 5 times weekly service to Seoul. In the past it had Hainan Airlines to Beijing, as well as Northwest Airlines and Japan Airlines to Tokyo.
If American Airlines, with a hub at Miami, had proposed to give Miami an Asia non-stop that would have been compelling to DOT, I think. However in offering net new service from New York, American would seem to be offering the better of the two options on the table, although net new service clearly wasn’t a criteria DOT used in awarding slots to Delta in the first place.
Delta also could have tried Miami. They are growing in the market in conjunction with having poached LATAM away from American Airlines as a close partner.