There Is A New Battle Brewing Over Haneda Airport Slots

Tokyo Haneda Airport Terminal 2

Japanese and American aviation authorities updated their bilateral agreement which increases slots for flights from United States to Tokyo’s busy Haneda Airport (HND). This updated agreement will spark new rounds of battle over how the slots would be allocated and used.

Haneda Airport Slots History

The Haneda Airport story began in 2008 when the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism announced it would re-authorize international flight operations into the world’s fourth busiest airport (Insight).  This announcement generated significant interests globally as the airport is only an estimated 9 miles (14 kilometres) away from Downtown Tokyo (Insight).

Haneda Airport vs Narita Airport (Distance)
Haneda Airport vs Narita Airport (Distance)
Source: Google Map

Japan and US  finalized the bilateral agreement in 2010 which awarded four nighttime slots to both Japanese and American carriers. Nighttime slots are ones where flights arriving and departing in and out of Haneda Airport must be scheduled between 2200 to 0700 (10pm to 7am) local time.

The stage was set for American Airlines (AA), Continental Airlines (CO), Delta Air Lines (DL), Hawaiian Airlines (HA) and United Airlines (UA) to lobby for the right to operate flights from their major hubs (Insight).

Once the dust settled, the US Department of Transportation awarded two slots to DL and one each for AA and HA (Insight).

2010 Haneda Airport Slot Allocation and Schedule
2010 Haneda Airport Slot Allocation and Schedule
Source: Information taken from airline’s websites

Once full operations began, it was clear that scheduled times for east coast flights from New York JFK International Airport (JFK) and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) would not be ideal for passengers.

American Airlines gave up on its slot as a result which was later awarded to United Airlines who commenced flights from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in 2014.

Delta Air Lines moved its DTW flight to Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), cancelled it, restarted it (Insight), and finally returned its slot. American Airlines received this slot and  started flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on February 11, 2016 (News).

Current Haneda Airport Slot Holder and Flight Origin
Airline Airport Airport Code
American Airlines (AA) Los Angeles International Airport LAX
Delta Air Lines (DL) Los Angeles International Airport LAX
Hawaiian Airlines (HA) Honolulu International Airport HNL
United Airlines (UA) San Francisco International Airport SFO

February 2016

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the US Department of Transportation reached a new agreement in February 2016. The new arrangement switches three of the four nighttime slots into daytime while adding two more daytime slots for both Japanese and US carriers. Flights using the daytime slots would depart and arrive Haneda Airport between 0600 to 2300 (6am to 11pm) local time.

Haneda Airport Slot Allocation 2016
Haneda Airport Slot Allocation 2016

The major advantage of these flights would be for cities east of Chicago.  Outbound departure from the US could scheduled for early afternoon with an arrival next day afternoon in Tokyo. Inbound departure could timed for early evening with a similar same day arrival time back in the US.  This arrangement would maximize connection opportunities for both Tokyo and the US East Coast which otherwise would not be available from nighttime flights.


Both American Airlines and United Airlines shared positive reactions to the news:

“We thank the U.S. Departments of Transportation and State, as well as the Japan Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, for taking this important step to enhance the U.S.-Japan aviation relationship,” American Airlines President Scott Kirby says in a statement. “It’s important for our customers to have convenient access to downtown Tokyo during the day, and this agreement also allows for desirable arrival and departure times in the U.S. for Haneda service.”

United Airlines shared a similar tone in a statement:

“Offering daytime service to and from the heart of Tokyo will create appealing new business and leisure travel opportunities for our global customers,” the carrier said in a statement posted to its website. “We congratulate the U.S. Departments of Transportation and State on the successful completion of these important negotiations, and we look forward to providing more convenient access to this key market from our San Francisco hub, where United offers more nonstop trans-Pacific flights than any other carrier.”

Delta Air Lines did not share the same sentiment. In a statement, Peter Carter, Executive Vice President – Chief Legal Officer said that  “Delta is deeply disappointed with the final agreement reached today between the U.S. and Japanese governments to incrementally open the Tokyo-Haneda airport. Tokyo-Haneda will remain a severely restricted airport with limited competition. Delta is committed to doing our best to maintain the viability of our current Asian route structure and our Tokyo-Narita hub for as long as possible, recognizing that commercial impacts are imminent. Delta will make a careful assessment and adjust our network accordingly.”



Daytime flights can start operations as soon as Fall 2016 after both countries’ aviation authorities approve the bids. US carriers could apply with the Department of Transportation shortly for new slots, switch timing for current flights or move current flights to new cities. The Department will consider variables such as competition, current supply/demand and new market opportunity in its approval process.

American carriers operate up to 30 non-stop flights daily from the US (including its territories) to both Tokyo area airports:

Tokyo Flights to the US (including territories) from American Carriers
Non-stop Tokyo Flights to the US (including territories) from American Carriers (Note – Yellow denotes airports with direct competition)

Additionally, both Delta Air Lines (6 flights) and United Airlines (2 flights) manage mini hubs at Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT). (Insight).

Tokyo is the most populated metropolitan area with over 36 million people (2010). It is a city that features a good mix of leisure and premium travellers and has the most non-stop flights from the US to Asia.

Both American Airlines and United Airlines are partnered with their alliance members (Japan Airlines through Oneworld and All Nippon Airways through Star Alliance) with codesharing arrangements to other Tokyo flights. Each of these airlines have up to fourteen non-stop flights daily to various US cities.

Tokyo Flights to the US from Japanese Carriers
Non Stop Tokyo Flights to the US (including territories) from Japanese Carriers (Note – Yellow denotes airports with direct competition).

When it comes to non-stop Tokyo flights by airline alliance, Star Alliance leads with 24 flights (42% of total), followed by Oneworld with 19 flights (33%) and SkyTeam with 13 flights (22%). Hawaiian Airlines is not part of any major airline alliance currently.

Total Tokyo to US Flights by Airline Alliance
Total Tokyo to US Flights by Airline Alliance

American Airlines

American Airlines is the biggest in the world by the number passengers carried (2014). Through its merger with US Airways (News), it now operates ten hubs (JFK, ORD, LAX, DFW, Miami (MIA), Phoenix (PHX), Charlotte (CLT), Philadelphia (PHL), Washington DC (DCA), New York (LGA)). In an interesting note, four of these hubs (PHL, CLT, PHX, MIA) do not have any non-stop flights operated by any US or Japanese airlines to Tokyo.

American Airlines Boeing 787-8 Los Angeles to Tokyo
American Airlines Boeing 787-8 Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda
By – Bradley Basin Employee Shoot Patrick Summers


American Airlines fly to Haneda Airport from Los Angeles. It can take two potential paths with the new agreement:

  1. Keep the LAX flight and seek approval for another one through one of its hubs.
  2. Move its flight out of highly competitive LAX to one of its dormant hubs as well as apply for extra daytime slots.

Both MIA and PHL are better candidates because of their high metropolitan population. They could also rank higher with both US and Japanese aviation authorities due to uniqueness. There may be additional opportunities to explore connecting Brazil, which does not have any non-stop flights to Japan but has the second highest population outside of that country, from MIA with the Boeing 787.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines operates the most flights by a US carrier with up to 18 non-stop flights daily in and out of Tokyo. It was hoping the authorities could agree to more slots so that the Atlanta based airline could move its entire operation to Haneda Airport. Building on its existing route network and plan for future growth would require 25+ slots.

Delta Air Lines Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita
Delta Air Lines Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita


Salt Lake City (SLC) is the only Delta Air Lines’ top 5 hub that does not have a non-stop flight to Tokyo. However, its geographical location west of Chicago would not benefit as much from a daytime flight.

Here is a list of options the airline could consider:

  1. Keep its LAX to HND flight and do nothing.
  2. Keep its LAX to HND flight and apply for rights to fly from its hubs east of Chicago (including Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), JFK). All three of these airports do not have any non-stop HND flights today. In addition, the first two have significant feeder connections available.
  3. Keep its LAX to HND flight and apply for rights to fly from SLC.

The best option may be no. 2 to add more frequency from ATL.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines has flights to both Tokyo airports from its main hub at Honolulu International Airport (HNL). It has not been successful in obtaining additional slots to Haneda Airport (Insight) thus far. The airline is likely to bid for the right to commence flights from Kona International Airport (KOA) again.

United Airlines

United Airlines with its Star Alliance partner All Nippon Airways have the most non-stop flights to Tokyo. All of its eight hubs (ORD, IAH, EWR, GUM, SFO, DEN, LAX, IAD) have flights covered between both airlines.


The airline could keep its SFO to HND flight as a nighttime flight to complement the existing daytime flight to leaving late morning (outbound) and return early evening (inbound).

United Airlines San Francisco (SFO) to Haneda (HND)
United Airlines San Francisco (SFO) to Haneda (HND)
Source: Google Flight

It can apply for one or more daytime slots from its hub in Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). In particular, there are only a maximum of six flights daily to Tokyo from the New York City area over ten from Los Angeles resulting in untapped potentials.

Other Considerations

While the probabilities are low, the US Department of Transportation could ask all nighttime slot holders to reapply for any of the Haneda Airport slots as all four flights have a second frequency to Narita Airport.

Besides reviewing loads and yields from its existing flights, airlines would consider how many connecting passengers from different cities that would benefit from daytime slots.

Which US cities would like to see daylight flights to Haneda Airport? (Pick up to 3 answers)

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