Delta Pushes to End Its Narita Hub, But Others Have a Different Plan

Next year, another round of slots at Tokyo’s close-in Haneda airport opens up, and the battle to procure them has begun. with some looking to gain more than others. This isn’t a transformative change for any of the airlines except for Delta. If Delta gets what it wants, it should mean the end of its Narita operation entirely.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you why Haneda is so much more desirable than Narita, but, well, of course I’m going to do just that.

Right now, access into Haneda is very tight for US carriers. There are only five slot pairs available for daytime flights from the US. (American has one for Los Angeles, Delta has two for Los Angeles and Minneapolis, Hawaiian has one for Honolulu, and United has one for San Francisco) one night-time slot that Hawaiian uses. But starting in the 2020 summer season (travel begins in early Spring), there will be up to an additional 12 daytime slot pairs available. That’s a whole lot, but there’s already more demand for them then there are slots available. Here’s what the big three want.

  • – 4 of the slot pairs, two for flights from Dallas/Fort Worth and one each for flights from Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
  • – 6 of the slot pairs, two for flights from Honolulu and one each for flights from Atlanta, Detroit, Portland, and Seattle.
  • Hawaiian – 3 of the slot pairs for flights from Honolulu.
  • – 6 of the slot pairs, one each for flights from Chicago, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington/Dulles.

Let’s look at these in order.

An Interesting, Targeted Play By American

American is playing this different than the others. Today the airline has two daily flights to Narita from Dallas/Fort Worth, and this would presumably just move them to Haneda. That may seem odd since its joint venture partner Japan Airlines would probably prefer to keep at least one of those ing Narita. Then again, JAL already has a flight on its own metal to Dallas, so maybe that’s enough.

The Los Angeles move is also surprising for the same reason. American has one flight to Haneda today and the other to Narita. So this presumably would move the other Narita flight to Haneda, again leaving only the JAL flight into Narita.

Lastly there’s the Vegas flight. American and JAL should be flying from Tokyo to more non-hub cities in the western US, but this will be a tough one. Why not just do it from Narita where slots aren’t an issue? Well, this flight appeals much more to Japanese point-of-sale, and Haneda is strongly preferred by those in Japan. This is going to require JAL to put a lot of work in to make it a success, so I’m a bit skeptical. But hey, worth a shot, I guess.

Hawaiian Focuses on Honolulu

For Hawaiian, it’s something of a no-brainer. Today it has one daily flight from Honolulu to Narita and 11 a week to Haneda. This is complemented by Japan Airlines flights as well, so there is already a huge presence. But Hawaiian wants more to the bottomless pit of Japanese demand, and this would certainly allow that.

United Goes Broad

Then there’s United. United is just trying to spread the love around and hit every big hub it has with Haneda flights. If United were to get all these flights, I’d be very surprised to see them all work. But I can see why United would take a swing for the fences anyway, even if it would hurt its joint venture partner ANA’s hub at Narita.

Delta Tries to Leave Narita Entirely

I’ve saved the most fun for last. You may remember my post just over a year ago entitled “With Four More Tokyo/Haneda Slots, Delta Could Pull Out of Its Ever-Shrinking Narita Hub Entirely.” Well, here Delta is looking for slots to do exactly that.

The four necessary slots to which I was referring were for flights to Atlanta, Detroit, Portland, and Seattle. Those are the only mainland US points that Delta has going into Narita today, and those are exactly the flights for which Delta applied. It looks like Delta also wants to keep flying to Honolulu, so it asked for two slots there as well. The only other flights it has at Narita today are flights beyond to Singapore and Manila. Without any US , those would clearly be useless and disappear.

My Unscientific Ruling

So what’s going to happen here? I have no idea, but I know what I’d do if I were king. Delta is at a disadvantage in Tokyo since it has no partner hub to , so I would definitely give Delta at least the four slots for mainland US service. The fifth one for Honolulu, meh, not as concerned since that’s really for the Japanese market and not US originating traffic, but it would still provide the only US-based competition to Hawaiian. So give ’em one. With at least four slots, this should give Delta the ability to shut its Narita station.

For American, I like the one for Vegas since it opens up a new city, and I think giving one to Dallas/Fort Worth makes sense as well. The other DFW and the LA one? Those aren’t going to bring much to the table.

As for United, I would think Chicago, Houston, Newark, and Washington/Dulles would all be fine choices. LA has a fair bit of capacity already including a flight on joint venture partner ANA, so I’d leave that out. And Guam is mostly for Japanese tourists, so it’s less important from a US perspective.

Hawaiian’s application is the least compelling, but if Delta gets 5, American 2, and United 4, then Hawaiian could get 1 and we reach the limit. That seems like a pretty good solution to me. Of course, I don’t have a say in this, so we wait.

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