American, United vie for Haneda slot – PaxEx.Aero

The Business of Passenger Experience
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With an operating slot at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport up for grabs both United Airlines and American Airlines are vying for this limited, valuable resource. Each carrier submitted its supplemental application this week, trying to convince the US Department of Transportation it alone can maximize benefit to the traveling public through operation of the route.
American wants to add a new flight, bringing back service from JFK airport to Haneda. The carrier previously served the route, but only when night time operations were permitted for US carriers at Haneda. The new flight schedule would operate mid-day, offering better connecting flow. United proposes to shift its Houston-Tokyo route from Narita to Haneda. It would not add seats to the US-Japan market, but, much like American, it argues its plans bring more competition to the market and offer more flexibility for consumers.
Both carriers would operate on a route where their joint venture partner also already flies from Haneda. Both use similar arguments to the DOT insisting that is not a problem. Rather than offering similarly timed “wingtip” flights, both plan to stagger their flights by 2+ hours to provide access to different connection banks at either end.
United pitches 10 new routes that will have a same-day connection and 17 more that will offer a connection which does not require departing the origin city prior to 7am. United also identifies 10 markets which would see total travel time reduced by more than 12 hours, though presumably passengers are either choosing the long layover on purpose or taking a different airline. It also identifies 35 markets served from Haneda which do not offer viable connections from Narita, further adding value to its Narita –> Haneda shift.
American focuses almost entirely on the New York City market rather than connections in the USA. This makes sense given its limited network at JFK. United tries to help the DOT out, identifying just 16 potential connecting routes compared to 64 United offers. American does identify onward connections from Haneda, with 31 domestic markets served by JAL.
American also tries to position itself as better able to serve significant connecting flow to New York City from Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, and Beijing. With US-China flight frequencies still limited the China demand could be a short-term factor. But as relations normalize it seems less likely those routes will play as significant a role. Moreover, unlike the domestic Japanese markets the China service is not included in the joint venture operations, limiting the value to passengers.
United takes the position that Houston has recovered fastest in terms of demand to Japan and that its growth warrants the shift in service more than JFK does. Looking at the demand, however, one might reasonably argue that JFK need the increased capacity as it is still unable to meet the much larger demands of that market with the current number of flights. Yes, JFK already has more flights, but it has 9x the demand, so more flights makes some sense.
Another significant advantage United brings to the table is the promise to start within 60 days of being granted the authority. American says it won’t start until March when the IATA Northern Spring season shift occurs. Given that United is just moving a plane over from Narita rather than launching an all-new service (and pulling a plane from elsewhere) it is undoubtedly easier to make that work. Whether the DOT judges that 60ish day startup difference as significant remains to be seen.
The general details above are typical of regulatory banter. Each promises it will be better than the other for various competitive reasons. United, however, appeared to want a bit more out of its application. Rather than focusing on the service offering, United also took the opportunity to swipe at American. Several times. Among the more amusing bits:
United reminds the Department that it has been United all along that has been proactive in ensuring slots are being used to their fullest to maximize public benefits and that the Department’s precedent and policy is upheld. American, on the other hand, has been a silent bystander, and has filed nothing and – to the best of United’s knowledge – has done nothing to support and uphold these important Department policies.
United describes American’s application as opportunistic, “swooping in at the eleventh hour seeking the only available slot pair, particularly one that American was readily willing to allow Delta to squander in its self-serving pilot program.
Moreover, United doubles down on the connection angle, noting that “American has far larger hubs than New York JFK that are rife with connecting flight opportunities across the U.S. that it has never served with Tokyo service (e.g., Charlotte), not even Tokyo Narita.” It even reminds the DOT that in the 2019 Haneda slot frenzy “American did not bet on New York JFK at all and instead selected Las Vegas for its next Tokyo Haneda service.”
These bits probably shouldn’t matter for the decision process, but they sure are fun to read.
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Filed Under: Airplanes and Airports
Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry.
He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers.
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