2014 was a year filled with fabulous drama and shade throwing in the airline industry, from the Battle in Seattle, to His Excellency rejecting his new toy because it had a scratch on it.
But quite possibly the biggest pre-school feud of the airline industry last year was with Delta’s Tokyo Haneda slot. The situation can best be summed up by saying that Delta had a toy they didn’t actually want to play with, but they didn’t want anyone else to be allowed to play with it either.
Delta’s Tokyo Haneda slot
Japan flights are heavily slot restricted, in particular at Tokyo Haneda, which is the airport closest to central Tokyo. Previously the airport was just for regional flights, though a few years back they started issuing slots for longhaul flights, but only for late night and early morning departures and arrivals.
Delta owns the right to a Tokyo Haneda slot, which they operate out of Seattle. Only they don’t. They operate the flight the bare minimum number of times required by the DOT in order for the slot to be active. Basically they don’t actually want to operate the route, but rather just don’t want anyone else operating the route either.
So between now and the end of the March they’re operating the Seattle to Tokyo Haneda flight from February 13 through 19, and from March 29 through April 1. That’s right, a total of 11 flights. Because technically that’s the bare minimum number of flights they have to operate to keep the route.
Other airlines are crying foul
Of course other airlines are calling Delta out on this and have filed complaints with the DOT. And that’s perfectly justifiable, in my opinion, since clearly Delta isn’t utilizing the frequency in the spirit it was intended.
Other airlines have requested to take over the route, and right now it’s down to American and Hawaiian. American wants to operate a 777 between Los Angeles and Tokyo Haneda, while Hawaiian wants to operate an A330 between Kona and Tokyo Haneda.
American’s bid for Tokyo Haneda
In addition to making their request with the DOT, American has set up a website making their case for why they should fly to Tokyo Haneda.
Now, the argument isn’t really that compelling, aside from pointing out that Delta simply isn’t using their slot… which I guess to some degree is justification enough.
They have a graphic pointing out that they’d be utilizing their route 10x as much as Delta:
And pointing out how many more connections they have in LA than Delta has in Seattle:
But here’s the part I really don’t get. Does American actually want to fly Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda, or do they simply want to take it away from Delta?
American used to fly from New York to Tokyo Haneda, a route which they eventually cut. And they’d be going head to head with ANA on the Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda route, and based on what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like ANA is doing all that well on the route. At least I’d assume not based on the fact that they always have award availability on the route, and generally all fare buckets are available day of departure.
Now, chances are that American could turn a profit on the route right now if they flew it. After all, they could probably turn a profit flying between Tulsa and Bahrain given the economy and oil prices. But when the economy weakens and oil prices go up again, is the route actually sustainable?
Ultimately I do think Delta deserves to have the Haneda slot taken away from them. They’re clearly not doing what’s in the best interest of consumers by having the slot and under-utilizing it. At the same time, I have to wonder if other airlines want the slot because they actually think it makes sense long term, or because they just want a small victory over Delta?
What do you think?