After Winning Battle, Delta Cancels Seattle To Tokyo Haneda Flight

Filed Under: Delta

At the beginning of the year I wrote about the battle going on between Delta, American, and Hawaiian, over a slot at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

Delta had been granted a slot to operate a Seattle to Tokyo Haneda flight, though they weren’t using it within the spirit it was issued. The route has highly seasonable demand, so in winter Delta operated the flight only 11 times, which was the minimum number of frequencies required to keep the route.


American and Hawaiian complained, and urged the DOT to take away Delta’s Tokyo Haneda slot.


In late March the Department of Transportation issued their ruling regarding Delta’s Tokyo Haneda slot. They said that Delta could keep their Seattle to Tokyo Haneda slot, though only if they operated it daily on a year-round basis. They added a further clause, whereby Delta refusing to operate the flight on more than two days in a seven day period would lead to their immediate loss of route authority.

After the DOT’s ruling, Delta issued the following statement, thanking the DOT for their ruling, and indicating that they planned to continue the service:

“Delta thanks the U.S. Department of Transportation for its tentative decision to allow the airline to continue its service between Seattle and Haneda Airport in Tokyo. After an extensive review, the DOT concluded that Delta’s Seattle-Haneda service provides the best public use of the available slot pair between the U.S. and Haneda Airport. Earlier this month, Delta resumed its nonstop service betweenSeattle and Haneda after a temporary seasonal suspension. Delta will operate year-round, nonstop flights between Seattle and Haneda as we continue to grow Delta’s international gateway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.”

After that big battle you’d think Delta would take their Haneda slot and run with it. Well, you’d be wrong. Delta has announced that they’ll be discontinuing service between Seattle and Tokyo Haneda as of October 1, 2015, and therefore American will get that slot for Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda service instead. Here’s the letter Delta sent to the DOT:

We appreciate the Department’s decision in Order 2015-6-14 to allow the Seattle-Haneda slot to remain with Delta. Delta has worked hard to develop Seattle-Haneda service under the difficult operating conditions imposed by the U.S.-Japan bilateral agreement, and we have relied on dormancy rights to adjust our services in response to seasonal market conditions. However, we understand the Department in Order 2015-6-14 to be recommending that carriers return Haneda slots to DOT if operating them on a year-round, daily basis is not commercially feasible.

We have determined that it is not commercially feasible to operate the slots allocated to Delta for Seattle-Haneda service on a consistent daily basis year-round because: (i) demand for Seattle-Haneda service is highly variable, peaking in the summer and declining in the winter; and (ii) Delta lacks a Japan airline partner to provide connectivity beyond Haneda to points in Japan and other countries in Asia. While Delta would prefer to continue to develop Seattle-Haneda service in competition with the American/JAL and United/ANA alliances at Haneda, Delta will follow DOT’s guidance in Order 2015-6-14 and return the slots to DOT.

In order to provide a smooth transition and avoid disruption to currently booked passengers, Delta plans to operate Seattle-Haneda service under the terms of the Order through September 30, 2015, when our last eastbound flight will depart Haneda for Seattle. We will then return the slots to the Department for reallocation effective October 1, 2015. Due to currently booked loads, it is not possible to re-accommodate passengers who are booked on flights before that date. In addition, we will dismiss the pending D.C. Circuit litigation, which is currently subject to an abeyance order.

Every U.S. carrier serving Japan will now have one pair of Haneda slots. Delta remains strongly opposed to any further changes to the Haneda operating rules unless and until Japan is willing to open the airport under normal open skies terms and allow Delta to relocate its Tokyo hub operation to the preferred airport. Any incremental or phased deal effective before then would be harmful and unfair to Delta as a Narita hub operator. Accordingly, we urge the U.S. government to aggressively pursue a full opening of Haneda to allow fair and equal access by U.S. carriers and their customers.

Now you can’t help but wonder if American actually wants to operate a Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda flight, or if they simply wanted to take it away from Delta:

  • Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda is already served by ANA and Delta, and Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita is already served by American and their joint venture partner Japan Airlines.
  • In terms of connecting traffic, American has a significant advantage flying into Tokyo Narita, given their oneworld and joint venture partner Japan Airlines has a huge hub there, so that route is much easier to sustain.
  • American tried flying from New York to Tokyo Haneda years ago, and couldn’t make the route work. That route had even less competition. What makes them think that the already saturated Los Angeles to Tokyo market will somehow be better?
  • Until Tokyo Haneda opens up more desirable slots for longhaul flights, the whole Haneda frenzy has turned into a bit of a flop, given the lack of connecting traffic and unfavorable arrival/departure times.


I guess we’ll see if American actually wanted that Haneda slot, or if they just didn’t want Delta to have it on their terms. Something tells me American’s ideal outcome was Delta having to (unprofitably) operate the flight daily, even in winter. But given American’s joint venture with Japan Airlines, maybe they’ll throw a 787 on the route eventually and be able to make that work.

What do you think — will American actually launch Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda service, or did they just not want Delta to have the route on their terms?

  1. @jon

    Open skies are always good when it benefit the US3, bad when it benefits somebody else.

  2. Actually American may stand a chance with this route, given the fact being the JV with JAL, and also JAL has NRT and KIX covered. But if the times are going to be crappy like deltas, then probably not. I hope they will try to copy the same times as ANA from LAX.

  3. This whole thing has been petty but Delta is right that the current terms of engagement at HND are ridiculous. I am still not clear why many other countries’ airlines, including long-haul carriers like BA, have been allowed access to decent daytime slots at HND while the US carriers are stuck with terrible middle-of-night slots.

  4. This may be a dumb ? but are they also cancellng HND-SEA, one would assume so but they only talk about SEA-HND in the letter.

  5. I’m not very smart on slot issues but I’m wondering to myself if AA could do it seasonally from SEA and then move the route to another city for Winter. So say from May-OCT it’s Seattle-Haneda and then they move to some other city like LA or SFO for an OCT-APR route with more demand in the Winter. I also agree that maybe a 787 can make it work for AA.

    My evil self hopes that Alaska picks up the route just to ramp things up with Delta. It’s like watching a WWF ladder match. Really dumb but fun to watch 🙂

  6. @ DaninMCI — American filed for an LAX-HND route, so I’d expect for it to be that year-round.

  7. I stand to be corrected, but I believe Haneda has almost twice the passenger traffic and aircraft movements of Narita. JL and NH both have huge hubs there. Mostly domestic routes and routes around the region. So technically, it should be easier to sustain a route to HND than NRT.

  8. My wife and I are both confirmed on the HND-SEA flight on 31 Dec 15. When do you think Delta will get around to telling us there will not be a flight? We both are Delta Diamonds but I will bet they won’t tell us anytime soon.

  9. Why does it sound like DOT changed the rules on DL mid-game? Sounds like DL was operating the min flights required in the off season to maintain the slot and would seem like DOT should have made a ruling change based on some date in the future. Good for DL for standing up for its operation of the slot and for also giving it up since it’s poor economics.

    Was there some piece I missed, why will this move to AA and not HA?

  10. So is it fine for Delta to tell DOT they will operate daily year round (thereby keeping the slot) and then giving it up a little before winter? Does anybody believe they ever intended to do a daily year round as they promised vs lying to get in one more good stretch of high traffic times?

  11. I believe AA filed to use a 777 in their petition earlier this year. Hopefully they won’t be held to that requirement.

  12. I honestly don’t the fascination with HND, given the abysmal arrival/departure times. Until those change, I wouldn’t even think of flying into HND, if I was going to Tokyo.

  13. Air Canada usually offers much better deals from SEA to Tokyo via YVR which I’m sure puts pressure on Delta.

  14. Figures… Delta was just waging this war for kicks.

    Can anyone elaborate/link to an explanation why HND slots ex-USA are so badly timed?

  15. Lucky,

    Will AA begin operating LAX-HND flights once the slots from the DL SEA-HND route are returned to DOT in October, or will AA begin them on a later date? Also, when will they (AA) announce the commencement of the LAX-HND route?

  16. Just flew HND-LAX on DL. Incredibly convenient airport compared to NRT. While not as extensive as NRT, JL, CX, MH, (QR?, EY?) all have HND flights. Combined with new LAX-SYD is AA finally waking up to its glaring weakness in Asia-Pacific, which has the fastest growing economies in the world?

  17. @ rj

    It certainly looks like it. With AA now flying from DFW to HKG, ICN, NRT, PEK and PVG and from ORD to NRT, PEK and PVG (no flights to Asia from JFK and MIA), AA certainly is making their Asian growth a priority, especially given the importance of the LAX market. As of December 2015, AA will fly from LAX to HND, NRT, PVG and SYD, which leaves room for plenty of growth. I can see AA definitely starting flights from LAX to AKL, HKG, ICN, MEL and PEK, as well as other cities afterwards. They already lead in carrying passengers to the Americas and Europe, if AA can focus on adding several more Asian and Pacific routes from LAX and build it into their primary Asian-Pacific gateway (as well as possibly the Americas), they will finally be able to compete with UA and DL. So as far as I know, the LAX-HND route is the start of AA’s quest to not only grow more in the Asian and Pacific markets, but to continue establishing themselves as the leading carrier in the LAX market (they already carry about 20% of all LAX passengers, so I could see it going up to 50% to 65%).

  18. “American tried flying from New York to Tokyo Haneda years ago, and couldn’t make the route work. That route had even less competition. What makes them think that the already saturated Los Angeles to Tokyo market will somehow be better?”

    Answer: Because LAX-GRU, that’s why.

  19. With AA’s LAX-GRU, the total trip time goes from around 29 hours flying time to about 22.5 hours. That’s an entire business day for a route between Tokyo and the city with the world’s largest Japanese population outside of Japan.

  20. If GRU-TYO is such a big market why aren’t there any nonstops? 22.5 hrs appears to beat the currenly available shortest flights, but not by 6.5 hrs.

    São Paulo, Brazil (GRU) to Tokyo, Japan (all airports)
    Search flight prices on Google
    1d 0h+ Lufthansa, ANA via Frankfurt
    1d 1h+ British Airways via London
    1d 1h+ KLM via Amsterdam
    1d 1h+ Swiss via Zurich
    1d 2h+ Air France via Paris

  21. @bgriff: “I am still not clear why many other countries’ airlines, including long-haul carriers like BA, have been allowed access to decent daytime slots at HND while the US carriers are stuck with terrible middle-of-night slots.”

    From what is being reported, it’s basically Delta’s fault. There are eight daytime HND slot pairs waiting to be divvied up between Japanese and US carriers. Delta is complaining that the allocation is unfair unless enough slots are released for Delta to move its NRT hub to HND. This is what’s holding everything up, allegedly.

  22. Haneda is Japan Airlines largest hub for domestic traffic and there are a considerable amount of SE Asian routes to and from HND which should allow connections onto an an AA service to LAX, as long as they agree the relevant codeshares. NRT does not have the same level of domestic services and quite often connections are offered on Jetstar Japan which is not ideal…
    AA doesn’t use NRT as a hub like both DL and UA do. Just now the international terminal at HND could not cope with the increased demand of shifting either of UA or DLs flights to that airport.
    The Japanese govt also heavily regulates which routes NH and JA can operate from HND and as for the European carriers and ME3, I believe they have all kept existing services operating from NRT while expanding into HND.

  23. classic move – a nothing-battle.

    this is exactly how I foresee the US3 vs ME3 battle going down if somehow the US govt rules in favor of the US3. the US airlines have turned the open skies agreement into a joke, and this kinda behavior is exactly what’s NOT being followed as intended or in good faith of the agreement.

  24. Ben –

    AA will use the slot to fly LAX-HND. The reason why is not just because of the local market, but the geography of LAX (or the west coast in general) enables “workable” times to and from HND given what the DOT has allocated US carriers. This was not the case with JFK-HND.


  25. Not sure why so much hate for the departure times. Leaving LAX a little after midnight and getting into HND allows for a full day in Tokyo or to catch the morning bank of connections at JL’s HND hub. You can sleep all night on the plane as if it was a regular night’s sleep and wake up at sunrise. On the return, the midnight departure allows for connections throughout the day at HND or to spend an entire day in Tokyo without the added expense of another night hotel stay. Meanwhile, you arrive at LAX mid afternoon which is enough time to wind down and go to sleep in a couple hours.

  26. ANA’s LAX-HND flight has been a lifesaver for me on a couple of business trips. The midnight departure and early morning arrival makes it possible to spend an entire day almost anywhere in the western half of the US, fly to LAX in the evening and be in Japan at the crack of dawn two mornings later, only losing one day to travel. With NRT flights, you have to leave first thing in the morning unless you are at the gateway, and even then you have to leave around noon, so you lose two days.

  27. I love it – so when it’s to their advantage, Delta is all for open skies, but when it means they have to compete against other global airlines their totally against it? #hypocrites #pathetic

  28. Should have given it to HA for KOA-HND…I know, 4 Haneda to Hawaii, but it works!

    1840-2205 KOA-HND and 2359-1240 HND-KOA.

    Times would have been sweet only if KOA had adequate FIS facilities.

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