ZIPAIR Plans US Launch With Honolulu Route

Filed Under: Japan Airlines

It looks like the US could see service from a new airline this year, per a request with the DOT. But first a bit of background on the airline…

What is ZIPAIR?

ZIPAIR is Japan Airlines’ new low cost carrier:

  • The airline will be starting with a fleet of two Boeing 787-8s
  • The fleet will grow by two planes per year, either by leasing them from Japan Airlines, or getting them through other sources
  • The airline is supposed to launch in summer 2020, with Bangkok and Seoul Incheon being the first two destinations; the May launch to Bangkok has been postponed, while the Seoul launch for July is still on
  • Tickets aren’t yet on sale for any routes

As far as the interiors go, ZIPAIR’s 787s will have a total of 290 seats, including 272 economy seats and 18 business class seats:

  • Business class will have reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration
  • No seats will have personal televisions, but rather they’re rely on streaming (these are the first reverse herringbone seats I’ve ever seen without TVs)
  • These planes are dense compared to Japan Airlines’ 787-8s, some of which have as few as 161 seats
  • These planes aren’t dense compared to some other low cost carriers, as airlines like Jetstar and Scoot have 335 seats on their 787-8s

ZIPAIR plans Honolulu flights in 2020

When the details of ZIPAIR were first announced, we knew that they planned on eventually flying to the US. However, everything I heard suggested that the airline would fly to the US West Coast, and Las Vegas was also mentioned specifically.

Well, ZIPAIR has now filed with the US Department of Transportation for their first US route. ZIPAIR plans to launch daily nonstop flights between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu as of the beginning of the winter 2020 season (which starts in late October).

Admittedly this is a strange time to be starting new service, though they did indeed make this request with the DOT just a few days ago, so…

This is an unusual low cost carrier strategy

Japan is a unique country when it comes to just about all aspects of business, and this is no exception.

First of all, generally when an airline launches a low cost carrier, they do so to be able to service routes that aren’t otherwise viable. In this case all three of ZIPAIR’s initial routes are also operated by parent company Japan Airlines. I can’t think of any other airline that has started a low cost carrier only to replicate routes.

Second of all, the Tokyo to Honolulu market is an interesting one in terms of airline strategy:

  • This is a leisure route, so on the surface you’d think it would be ripe for low cost carriers
  • This is also a highly competitive market, with flights from All Nippon Airways, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, and United Airlines
  • Japan Airlines already operates the route 4x daily, and they have a joint venture with Hawaiian Airlines, which also operates the route 4x daily, for a total of 8x daily flights
  • It’s also kind of a premium leisure route, and airlines have taken a different strategy than you might expect; for example, ANA flies their A380s exclusively between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu

All Nippon Airways’ A380s

Bottom line

ZIPAIR has filed with the US Department of Transportation to start nonstop Tokyo Narita to Honolulu flights as of late 2020. We’ll see if that timeline sticks in light of current events, as this isn’t a great time to start a new airline.

I still find the ZIPAIR strategy to be strange, given that they’re just replicating JAL routes. JAL and their joint venture partner already operate the route 8x daily, so just how different will pricing be on ZIPAIR, and are they simply cannibalizing their own business, or creating new demand?

Tickets aren’t yet on sale, so maybe once we see ticket prices we’ll get a better sense of what the strategy is.

What do you make of ZIPAIR’s routes and strategy?

(Tip of the hat to Alon)

  1. A bit like the failed Air France low-cost Joon? Allowed them to reduce costs on routes Air France served.

  2. “In this case all three of ZIPAIR’s initial routes are also operated by parent company Japan Airlines.”

    That’s not correct – JAL does not fly NRT-ICN.

    JAL flies Haneda-Gimpo. But that’s a different route than Narita-Incheon.

  3. The livery reminds me a bit of the old Luxair scheme from the eighties (however nowhere near as good).

    On a completely different note: with no travels in the foreseeable future perhaps you could do some posts around themes like favourites you have. Liveries (both current and all time), aircraft (both from looks and paxex POV), ranked lists of amenities you appreciate (both from a hotel and airline perspective), most useless amenities/features etc. Totally subjective on your part – and I think it could get some fun feedback in the comments.

  4. “Japan Airlines already operates the route 4x daily, and they have a joint venture with Hawaiian Airlines, which also operates the route 4x daily, for a total of 8x daily flights”
    Could this route launch be so JAL (through ZIPAIR) gets ultimately more revenue as they won’t have to share it with Hawaiian?

  5. I saw the plane on the ground at Narita in December and I rather like the livery. Very much in the late 80s early 90s letraset grab bag school of graphic design but it actually looks good.

  6. The U.S. DOT said Hawaiian-JAL can have a JV, the application supported a joint venture. What the DOT rejected was ATI Anti-trust immunity. The two carriers did not provide enough evidence that granting ATI would result in increased consumer benefits.

    However, how do you have a JV without ATI and the ability to collaborate on network and pricing?

  7. It is a way for JAL to lower costs on a leisure route. JAL pilots and flight attendants aren’t cheap.

  8. I think they are estimating that there is plenty of unrealized potential for low-end tourism from Japan to Hawaii. This was the calculation Southwest made too, but for low-end tourism from mainland USA. In that sense, they are indeed manufacturing some demand here, and it might just work, especially if they have compelling connections to Bangkok.

  9. What would be the complaint?
    We need more SAFE / LOW cost flights from the state.
    Out with AIRASIA an absolutely rubbish airline & let’s see where this new endeavor goes.
    I fly 4 xs a year minimum to Japan & this might be a perfect alternative.
    I will say, JAL did come to my rescue April when I was able to catch the last flight out of Japan, but at a cost…huge cost.

  10. “I can’t think of any other airline that has started a low cost carrier only to replicate routes.”

    2 short-lived US low cost carriers that both replicated routes from their respective parents’ hubs:

    Song – Delta
    Ted – United

  11. Tokyo = Honolulu is not premium heavy and might be one of the best trial routes for low-cost carrier in Japan. JAL once had 5-6x rt daily between Tokyo and Honolulu at peak travel times, ANA has a pretty dense config in their A380 (their first class A fares are not expensive too — around $3400 you can get a round trip from Asia to HNL). With this frequency the Honolulu route still has pretty good load and the price was not cheap, so I guess JAL is targeting the potential of more price-sensitive passengers.

  12. JAL had a very successful subsidiary called JALways from the mid nineties until 2008. Operating on same routes as JAL to BKK, HNL, Australia and more pacific leisure markets using the B747. The writer should do a little more research.

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