Last updated: 12:00 PM ET, Mon April 25 2016

Which US Carrier Will Triumph in the Quest for Prime Tokyo Haneda Slots?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 25, 2016

Which US Carrier Will Triumph in the Quest for Prime Tokyo Haneda Slots?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

U.S. airlines celebrated when the government made a deal with Japan to increase the number of slots available to American carriers at Tokyo Haneda airport. Haneda, which is much closer to the heart of the city than Narita — Tokyo's main international airport — is attractive because of its location and because it has a high number of domestic flights for passengers who want to connect to other parts of Japan.

Previously, U.S. airlines were limited to overnight slots so Japanese carriers were able to fly during peak times with limited competition. 

Airlines must reapply for slots

In order to make sure the new daytime slots are divided fairly among applying airlines, the DOT has made a decision that is quite unpopular with three of the four carriers coveting the slots: it will start from scratch and make airlines reapply for all the openings available at Haneda. 

The four carriers competing for the spaces are Delta, United, American and Hawaiian. They will be trying to get their share of six daily round-trip flights, five of which will take off during the daytime. 

READ MORE: Airlines Battling for Supremacy in Los Angeles

DOT looking for new routes

American, United and Hawaiian had hoped the DOT would just switch their nighttime slot to the daytime and then let them compete for the two remaining openings (assuming Delta also switched to the daytime). However, the department decided to start the entire process over again. This means that none of the airlines are officially guaranteed any of the spaces available at Haneda. 

The DOT will look at all the possible routes and determine which ones will best serve the interest of American fliers. Of the four airlines competing for routes, only Delta supports this allocation process. This is because the other U.S. airlines operating at Haneda have Japanese partners. This allows them to better take advantage of the service. Delta does not have any allies at Haneda, and is therefore at a disadvantage because it offers far fewer connections (at both Tokyo airports). 

A need for new destinations 

Delta would ideally like to have a majority of the new slots at Haneda since American and United are already involved in that market via their joint venture deals with JAL and ANA. 

The DOT is unlikely to appease Delta however. They have set a precedent in the past of allotting new slots fairly evenly both in terms of airlines and in terms of destinations served. In addition to some of the obvious West Coast airports, places like Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago could be chosen (and served by Delta, American and United respectively). 

READ MORE: Agreement to Allow More Flights Between US, Haneda

Hawaiian will most likely keep its flight as well, since Haneda-Honolulu is so important for the tourism industry on the islands. However, Hawaiian may end up staying in the one remaining overnight slot because the daytime slots will be taken up by other higher traffic routes. 

Who wants what?

In addition to the Honolulu-Haneda route, Hawaiian has applied for a second slot for flights to Kona, on the Big Island. Again, though, it would be an upset for the airline to get that route.  United, meanwhile, will try to keep its Haneda-SFO route and add service from Newark. American will attempt to retain its LAX route and add Dallas-Haneda service.

Delta, the only airline to approve of the idea for reapplication, has applied for three flights to Haneda. It wants to fly from Minneapolis, Atlanta and Los Angeles. 

It looks like the race to get on top of the growing transpacific market will pass through Haneda, but if the slots are allocated evenly, no airline will really be able to gain the upper hand.

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