Delta Wants To Block Progress At Tokyo Haneda Airport

Filed Under: Delta

While politicking by airlines is nothing new, usually they’re at least somewhat subtle with how they go about it. In other words, if they’re lobbying for something which will harm consumers, they’ll at least pretend they’re not being completely selfish.

Well, not Delta. Delta wants to block other airlines from growing at Tokyo Haneda Airport, since it doesn’t suit their business model. And they’re threatening to cut service from Minneapolis to Tokyo Narita (along with other routes) as a result.

The history of Tokyo Haneda vs. Tokyo Narita

I won’t get too deep into this, since it’s really just tangential. But historically Narita Airport has been the major international airport serving the Tokyo area, while Haneda Airport has served domestic routes. Haneda Airport is significantly more convenient if you’re visiting Tokyo, since it’s closer to the city. Narita, on the other hand, can be a 75-90 minute bus ride, depending on which part of the city you’re staying in.

Narita Airport

A few years back Haneda Airport was “opened up” a bit, where they began to allow some longhaul flights to take off and land there. There were two catches:

  • Tokyo Haneda is heavily slot restricted, meaning only a very limited number of longhaul flights can operate out of there
  • Longhaul flights can only operate during off-peak times, mostly in the middle of the night

Airlines have fought tooth-and-nail for the slots at this airport, despite the undesirable slot times. Most recently the battle was between American and Delta, as American claimed that Delta wasn’t using one of their Tokyo Haneda slots correctly. Delta ended up giving up the slotallowing American to launch a flight between Los Angeles and Tokyo Haneda.


Now authorities are trying to open Tokyo Haneda up for longhaul flying. They are considering allowing some airlines to operate longhaul flights out of Haneda during daytime hours, rather than only in the middle of the night. That would be huge, because for many people the arrival and departure times at Haneda Airport still make Narita Airport the better option (for example, public transportation isn’t even available during the hours many longhaul flights operate out of Haneda).

Objectively, Tokyo Haneda being opened up to daytime flights would be great news. US and Japanese airlines could fly between longhaul destinations and Tokyo Haneda at more reasonable times.

That’s a win-win, right? Not according to Delta.

Why Delta is trying to block Tokyo Haneda’s growth

Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The proposed expansion, Hirst said at a meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, would favor Delta rivals United Airlines and American Airlines, chiefly because they have partnerships with Japan’s two major airlines. Delta’s effort to develop a partnership with a smaller Japanese airline hasn’t succeeded.

If the expansion of Tokyo’s Haneda airport goes through, Delta would likely lose many Tokyo passengers to other carriers, making Narita unprofitable for the Atlanta-based airline, Hirst said. “It’s not just parochial for Delta,” he said. “It [affects] every point on the map that comes into and out of Narita.”

He urged the commission to apply swift and aggressive pressure to the Minnesota congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Transportation before the two governments meet again Feb. 9.

The issue here is that American and United partner with JAL and ANA, respectively, and therefore would have lots of connection opportunities out of Tokyo Haneda. Meanwhile the same isn’t true for Delta, which has their own mini-hub in Tokyo Narita, as they connect to several other points in Asia from there. But they don’t have the same potential for connections out of Tokyo Haneda.

Basically they realize they’d be at a disadvantage, given that they couldn’t move their entire operation to Tokyo Haneda, and therefore their service out of Tokyo Narita would be less appealing to consumers.

And that’s why Delta is claiming that they may be “forced” to cancel its daily flights to Tokyo:

Minnesota’s only nonstop flight to Asia could end soon, a Delta Air Lines executive warned Tuesday, a move that would make travel to the world’s fastest-growing region more difficult for business travelers and vacationers.

Delta may be forced to cancel its daily flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Tokyo, which was started by Northwest Orient in 1947 and was the nation’s first commercial air service to Japan, Ben Hirst, Delta’s special counsel, told airport administrators.

Bottom line

Delta is very clearly going against the best interest of consumers here. The funny thing is that they gladly fought to have the right to fly to Tokyo Haneda in the middle of the night, but now that they’d potentially have access to better slots they don’t want them anymore. They wanted access to Haneda, but they didn’t want well timed access to Haneda. And that’s because it would benefit other airlines more than them.

In my opinion this is quite pathetic on the part of Delta. Here’s an airline which made almost a $6 billion profit last year. Delta wants to win every battle, and of course I get that. Who doesn’t? But they’re doing so in a way where they’re going against the best interests of the public and the industry as a whole in a very clear manner.

It sure seems like a stretch to suggest that they’d be “forced” to cancel some flights to Tokyo Narita if this change occurred. Would they be at a relative disadvantage compared to American and United due to pre-existing partnerships? Sure. But they’re also a pretty creative airline.

What do you make of Delta’s request for lawmakers to block Tokyo Haneda expansion?

(Tip of the hat to Rapid Travel Chai)

  1. “Would they be at a relative disadvantage compared to American and Delta due to pre-existing partnerships?”

    No, they’d be at a relative disadvantage compared to American and UNITED 😉

  2. Delta’s attitude is disgusting. It is about time for someone to pit them where they belong. Yes, losing the daily flight out of MSP will be really bad but unless I am flying to Tokyo and not other Asian country I prefer to fly to the west coast and get a real airline like Cathay or Singapore. Thus, I would be happy to connect somewhere than flying Delta.

  3. This is funny, but it isn’t quite as funny as United’s argument that they could no longer offer IAH-AKL service after Southwest got approval to fly to Mexico and the Caribbean out of Hobby. That was the funniest thing ever.

  4. So their argument comes down to – No one wants to partner with us, so no one else should be able to compete with us.

    It’s like watching a 5 year old run a businesss.

  5. Maybe Delta should cancel Seattle and Portland to Narita as well as Minneapolis to Narita flights and see how that boosts their business . Chances are another airline will take up the slack and really hurt Anderson’s feelings . I’d bet a few dollars that this possibility has already occurred at Delta . They decided to bluff anyway .
    I bet they’ll find out about this comment and then I’ll never ever , ever have enough pesos for a ticket .

  6. Wait – why would Delta feel compelled to move their operation to Haneda, if the main benefit to Haneda is being closer to Tokyo proper, but Delta’s primary concern is CONNECTION opportunities for rivals? That’s a totally separate issue from how far away the airports are from the middle of town. Why not just improve fifth freedom routes from NRT?

  7. Haneda is great not only for its location, but also for its lack of size. Its so easy to navigate and has the friendly feel of a regional airport while still being very clean and modern. The pay showers before check-in are a godsend both before and after a flight and there are some great food selections. Because of my love I am conflicted on its growth. It could easily explode and ruin all but the, convenient to Tokyo, location. As it sits is is my premier choice for Tokyo to L.A. flights, and I have never had problems finding one that suits my need or budget.

  8. DL used to run its own connecting flights from NRT to airports like NGO, ITM, CTS, ICN, and FUK. Now you simply can’t get to a lot of those destinations on ST at all. DL’s new weakness in NE Asia is by choice and their campaign to squeeze US pax is reprehensible.

    It’s no wonder US consumers trust ME3 airlines over the US3. The foreigners are the ones supporting free choice in the USA.

  9. @Dylan exactly my thoughts.. I’m really expecting something like that to bring up te level of service and healthy competition.

  10. Delta has been slowly cutting back and eliminating routes in and out of Tokyo Narita for about two years now. Perhaps this is “cover” for them to totally pull out.

  11. I love the late departures from HND and would likely never take a day flight even if they existed. The night flights are not only cheap in business, but it also means you can do a day of business and have a proper business meal and still leave on the same day. I love it! I also don’t fly Delta. In any case, I hope they open it up.

  12. Delta acting in a selfish and shortsighted manner that’s diametrically opposite to the best interests of their customers? Shocking.

  13. Delta has no duty to protect the consumer, but only a duty to its shareholders. Consumers may not like what Delta is doing, but for better or worse, this is capitalism at work. Moreover, is this any different than what Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are doing?

  14. Delta is threatening to eliminate the MSP NRT flight not because of what is happening at HND, but because Delta is planning to eliminate their MSP hub in favor of SEA.. MSP is a hub Delta never wanted, but came with the Northwest merger

  15. @Brian

    > is this any different than what Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are doing?

    I don’t recall any ME3 lobbying for LESS routes being opened. Or making $6b in profits. DL is truly a of contents its own.

  16. Delta complained previously that wanted enough slots at HND to move all their operations there and that no one should get more HND slots until that’s possible.

  17. The delta Skyclubs at NRT used to be the best in their system. Now they are among the worst. Try finding some electrical outlets there. Delta has made no apparent improvements or investments in them in years. The Admirals Club and the Japan Airlines Sakura lounges at NRT put the Skyclubs to shame. That is on top of reducing routes and capacity out of NRT. It appears that delta has little interest in NRT.

  18. I have to chuckle at people calling Delta “petulant” or being selfish. Folks…this is business. Delta is not in business to look out for the interests of American, United, ANA, JAL, etc. They do have an incentive to look out for the interest of the consumer because that impacts the willingness of the consumer to do business with them. But to the degree that they feel that their actions do not negatively impact their own business, though we could debate the ethics and morals of it, technically they have no obligation to selflessly look out for the consumer.

    Where I do draw the line is using the heavy hand of government to pursue their corporate goals. Government should not unfairly limit competition by limiting the actions of other carriers solely to benefit Delta. However, beyond that, Delta is supposed to compete vigorously within the law and within the confines of the free market.

  19. Delta had a lot of influence in Japan when it had flight attendant bases and was a major employer、bring a major employer carries more weight in Japan because Japan places higher value on employment than profits. DAL has been slowly chopping away at this since the merger with Northwest. They see the world as centered In The US (ATL) and do not think globally other than to partner with other airlines. This is very limiting and works only sort term. delta used to have good Japanese service on the planes, but now they have Americans with American attirudes and can’t compete with ANA or JAL even as a sill-over carrier. The customers have shifted over the last 6 years from mostly Japanesr to mostly US origin. Sad because they have a good physical product on the plane.

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