Tokyo Haneda Coveted Slots Battle – Part 3

Tokyo Haneda Airport Terminal 2

Tokyo Haneda International Airport

We have been covering the battle for Tokyo Haneda’s coveted flight slots over the past two blog entries (Follow the link for part 1 and part 2).

In this entry, we will follow Hawaiian Airlines (IATA Airline Code – HA), American Airlines (AA) and Delta Air Lines (DL) as they start service from Honolulu International Airport (IATA Airport Code – HNL), New York JFK International Airport (JFK), Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Some will enjoy success while others will have a bumpy ride.


After obtaining approvals from the US Department of Transportation (DOT), Hawaiian Airlines (IATA Airline Code – HA) started its Haneda flights from Honolulu (IATA Airport Code – HNL) in November 2011.

This was followed plans by both Delta Air Lines (DL) and American Airlines (AA) in February 2011 with their own flights from Detroit (DTW), Los Angeles (LAX) and New York (JFK).

The following chart highlights key information on the flights being operated including flight times, plane time and distance:

Tokyo Haneda Saga - Airline Flight Information at Start Date

Information taken from airlines’ news releases on January 10, 2015. Infographic designed by Experience The Skies on January 12, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)


  • Due to time restrictions imposed by the Japanese transport authorities, all international flights must operate only between 2200 to 0700 local time (with HND to US bound flights not permissible before midnight). As such, all airlines must schedule around this clause resulting in major challenges.
  • Hawaiian Airlines is the least affected by this restriction while Delta Air Lines’ Detroit and American Airlines’ JFK flights have very challenging inbound arrival times.  In both cases, passengers would depart early morning and arrive early morning which may led to perceived long travel times when they have onward connections.
  • AA was the only airline to utilize a three class configuration aircraft for this flight which has a lower overall seat count and require a higher load from first and business class passengers to be profitable.
  • As there is a lack of public transportation available to Haneda after midnight and taxis are expensive, passengers might have to endure a significant wait at the airport for early morning flights if they are taking subways or buses into the airport. The lack of amenities opened between midnight to early morning increases the discomfort level for passengers.
  • The same transportation issue might occur if flights are delayed arriving in Haneda and the custom and immigration wait time is longer than usual.

March 11, 2011 Earthquake / Tsunami and its Effects on the Haneda Flight

On March 11, 2011, Japan was stuck by a magnitude-9 earthquake in the northeastern city Tohosu. This earthquake triggered a massive tsunami. This had a profound effect on traffic demands to Japan as a whole.

American Airlines

Tokyo Haneda Saga - American Airlines Update 2011 to 2013

Information complied from US Department of Transportation and airline’s website on January 12, 2015. Inforgraphic designed by Experience The Skies on January 12, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

While there was much celebration on the introductory New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda flight, AA had an uphill battle to sell this produce due mainly to flight times.

Following the March 2011 earthquake and tsuami, AA suspended and resumed this flight many times as noted in the timeline infographic above. In June 2011, following DL’s lead, it filed for a dormancy waiver with the DOT to suspend flights until June 2012 without losing its slot rights (without this waiver, the DOT can choose to reallocate the slot to another airline).

In its Q2 earnings announcement on July 20, 2011, parent AMR said “American plans to suspend its service to Haneda beginning in early September in an effort to help it offer service more in line with market demand, as Japan continues to recover from March’s earthquake and tsunami”.

On July 24, 2011, the DOT approved AA’s dormancy waiver and stated that “When we selected American’s New York (JFK)-Haneda proposal, and subsequently granted a brief start-up extension, we did so because we concluded that American’s proposal would provide important public interest benefits.”

“We recognize, as we recently did in granting a comparable Detroit-Haneda dormancy waiver to Delta, that in granting a dormancy waiver to American for its New York (JFK)-Haneda service, these benefits might be somewhat delayed and that there might be some cost in terms of permitting available bilateral rights to go temporarily unused.”

“Nevertheless, on balance, we have determined that in the extraordinary circumstances presented, i.e., the catastrophic natural disaster and aftermath in Japan, those costs do not outweigh the value of preserving the anticipated benefits of New York (JFK)-Haneda service.”

After the 2011 Summer season was over, AA suspended the flight in September for the third time since its introduction and resumed it as per the agreement with the DOT in June 2012 (refer to AA news release).  The flight was operated for another 15 months before it was finally cancelled on December 1, 2013.

On its cancellation, AA’s Chief Commercial Officer Virasb Vahidi said in a special Jetwire to employees, “While we are disappointed to end this route, our Tokyo/Haneda flight has been quite unprofitable, largely because we are allowed to operate only during severely restricted hours, limiting our customers’ options for connecting flights to and from other Asian markets.”

“Our decision to finally cancel the service followed multiple unsuccessful attempts to persuade the U.S. and Japanese governments to reach an agreement to eliminate all schedule constraints at Tokyo/Haneda”.

At the time on cancellation, AA Chairman and CEO Tom Horton echoed the sentiment by stating, “if there were an opportunity to get better slot times at Haneda, we’d consider going back to it,” Horton said. “But right now, it was not a profitable flight and we couldn’t tolerate that any longer, and we fought that very hard.”

Delta Air Lines


Tokyo Haneda Saga - Delta Air Lines Update 2011-2014

Information complied from US Department of Transportation and airline’s website on January 12, 2015. Inforgraphic designed by Experience The Skies on January 12, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)


Similar to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines had its share of challenges with the Haneda flights due primarily of timing. Flights to both Los Angeles and Detroit were suspended multiple times due to low loads. After filing for dormancy waiver with the DOT, DL went one step further and filed a motion to move the Detroit flight to Seattle.

Although it was met with oppositions from United Airlines who wanted to start service to San Francisco (SFO) and Hawaiian Airlines who wanted to double its flights from Honolulu (HNL) or start a new service to Kona (KOA), DOT ultimately approved this motion (refer to DOT’s bulletin).

The move from Detroit to Seattle was completed on June 1, 2013 when the first departure was flown (refer to new release from Delta Air Lines). The timing shown below was better for both inbound and outbound passengers than the Detroit flights previously.

DL581 SEA   1822 – 2235+1 HND
DL580 HND 0015 – 1624-1 SEA

Hawaiian Airlines

From the beginning, Hawaiian Airlines had a successful run on its first Tokyo flight.

While it has been successful in obtaining additional slots to HND, it continues to file new motions whenever its competitors failed to make this downtown Tokyo flight successful.

In the next entry, we will examine what happened after American Airlines pulled out of Haneda and what airlines are doing currently as these coveted slots are being fought out.

Follow link to part 4.