DOT Issues Ruling On Delta’s Tokyo Haneda Slot

I find airline politics to be pretty amusing at times. One interesting battle we saw earlier in the year was between Delta, American, and Hawaiian, regarding Delta’s Seattle to Tokyo Haneda flight.

As I explained at the time:

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.

American and Hawaiian filed complaints with the DOT over Delta “abusing” their Tokyo Haneda slot, arguing they’d utilize the slot better.

American-Haneda

It looks like a decision has finally been made regarding this complaint. Yesterday the DOT issued their ruling regarding Delta’s Haneda slot:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today proposed to permit Delta Air Lines to retain its authority to provide daily service between Seattle, Washington and Tokyo’s downtown Haneda Airport, but subject to additional conditions designed to ensure that Delta maintains a daily service in the Seattle market year-round.

In consideration of Delta’s recommitment to year-round daily service, DOT tentatively determined that it was in the public interest to permit Delta to retain the Seattle-Haneda route.  However, any failure by Delta (absent DOT authorization) to operate any Seattle-Haneda flight, year-round, in either direction, would constitute a violation of its authority.  Additionally, any failure by Delta (absent DOT authorization) to perform Seattle-Haneda service on two days of any seven-day period would mean the immediate loss of Delta’s authority.

So Delta gets to keep their Tokyo Haneda slot, but they have to operate daily, year-round service. Like, they literally have to schedule the flight 365 days per year. Beyond that, it would seem that if the flight has two mechanical cancellations in a week, they’d immediately lose rights to operate the route. Those are some fascinating conditions. In the past we haven’t really seen the DOT be so decisive with telling airlines how to operate their routes.

Delta gets to keep the route, but they don’t have the liberty to operate it seasonally, or 6x a week, or skip it on Thanksgiving or Christmas. And if they screw it up, American would get the rights to the the Haneda slot, which they’d use for a daily flight out of Los Angeles:

DOT selected American Airlines’ proposal to provide Los Angeles-Haneda service as a backup should Delta fail to meet its requirements in serving the Seattle market.

Meanwhile Delta issued the following statement responding to the ruling:

“Delta thanks the U.S. Department of Transportation for its tentative decision to allow the airline to continue its service between Seattle and Haneda Airport in Tokyo. After an extensive review, the DOT concluded that Delta’s Seattle-Haneda service provides the best public use of the available slot pair between the U.S. and Haneda Airport. Earlier this month, Delta resumed its nonstop service between Seattle and Haneda after a temporary seasonal suspension. Delta will operate year-round, nonstop flights between Seattle and Haneda as we continue to grow Delta’s international gateway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.”

Bottom line

This seems like a fair ruling on the part of the DOT. I’m actually kind of surprised how strong-armed they are with their ruling, telling Delta they have to operate the flight daily. But I also don’t blame them, given how Delta was clearly not acting within the spirit of the slot they had been granted.

How do you feel about the DOT’s ruling on Delta’s Haneda slot?

Comments

  1. “Additionally, any failure by Delta (absent DOT authorization) to perform Seattle-Haneda service on two days of any seven-day period would mean the immediate loss of Delta’s authority.” -DOT

    “So Delta gets to keep their Tokyo Haneda slot, but they have to operate daily, year-round service. Like, they literally have to schedule the flight 365 days per year.” -Ben

    It appears you didn’t quite understand DOT’s ruling. DOT is not forcing “daily” (everyday) service, only “year-round” service. To the DOT, daily doesn’t really mean every single day of the year.
    Delta is only required to provide flights on “two days of any seven-day period” to avoid immediate loss of the route. This condition is there to prevent Delta from instituting seasonal breaks where no flights take place for long periods of time. I guess to play it safe, they would schedule three days every week in case of IRROPS or whatever may happen. American and Hawaiian are hoping that Delta screws it up and misses the two-days-every-seven-days rule.

    Anyways, I don’t see how you missed this. It was very clear in the press release.

  2. @ George — Did you read the actual ruling?

    “Any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform a Seattle-Haneda flight, and any failure, without a Department-granted waiver, to perform a Haneda-Seattle flight, on each and every day of every week (7 days a week, 365 days a year), will constitute a violation of Delta’s Seattle-Haneda authority subject to enforcement.”

    Please tell me what I’m missing? “Each and every day of every week” seems pretty clear to me…

  3. I guess HND has since expanded long-haul service though, right? No longer restricted to late night or early morning. My YYZ-HND flight arrives around 15:30 and the return departs at 17:40.

  4. Ben, George was probably relying on you to originally quote the most important parts of the ruling in your original post. Unfortunately you left those parts out making it hard to reconcile your analysis with what you quoted. It isn’t until you had the incongruity between your analysis and the quotes you posted pointed out that you added the quote from the section requiring a daily flights.

    If you had posted that in the beginning, I doubt George would have commented.

  5. @omatravel: I don’t think what Lucky quoted had different meaning from what he later added on. It had the same exact meaning. I for one totally read it as if Delta failed to operate on 2 days out of 7 days they’d immediately lose the slot, and not that they only had to operate 2 days out of 7 days, which doesnt even make that much sense. It was George who out of nowhere said Lucky didn’t understand the rule.

  6. @ omatravel — This was in the post all along (I’ve added nothing to it since publishing):
    “but subject to additional conditions designed to ensure that Delta maintains a daily service in the Seattle market year-round.”

    Daily, year-round service seems pretty straightforward to me…

  7. Good for the DOT on being so decisive with Delta, and I’m glad that got sorted out. Though to be honest I wanted American to be given rights to operate out of Haneda.

  8. I agree with Omatravel, in the original post doesn’t clearly outline what Lucky summarized at the end. But the important part is that Delta has to use the slot now. That is a good thing.

  9. Boy, talking about “be careful what you wish for”. DL gets to keep the rights to a route that makes less sense than EK Dubai-MCO. There’s no way to crunch the numbers in any manner conducive to produce a profit using a dilapidated B767 for this 10 hour flight. Japanese customers are not going to accept paying near competition prices for a crew that doesn’t speak their language, limited IFE, noisy cabin, lack of Skyteam partner connections, a hostile FF earning program and bathrooms that are not cleaned during flight.

  10. @JoeMart

    MCO was Emirate’s largest connecting market from JFK.
    Not really surprising that Emirate would start service to MCO.

  11. The capitalist in me is wondering why the US DOT’s even involved in route selection. I can see DOT getting involved in airspace congestion issues like the NYC metro area, but seriously is granting AA one more (or more) flights to Haneda going to set the world into a tailspin?

    That said, having dealt with DOT/FAA… I’m surprised they haven’t tried regulating the consistency of toilet paper on the aircraft yet.

  12. @JoeMart

    >Japanese customers are not going to accept paying near competition prices for a crew that doesn’t speak their language

    I have to agree on this. It is very ture. The only reason Japanese leisure customers choose DL is because of price. And it is important for them that crews speak Japanese. Japanese blogers often mention the price why they chose DL. If NH had HHD-SEA route and the price was similar no one would choose DL (maybe besides DL elites).

  13. Hi Lucky

    I am really confused. In your original post you do not say “on each and every day of every week (7 days a week, 365 days a year),” so like omatravel I think that is the reason for the conclusion.
    Also I have read the DOT ruling it does not say that although they could have amended it. This is what it says;
    “In consideration of Delta’s recommitment to year-round daily service, DOT tentatively determined that it was in the public interest to permit Delta to retain the Seattle-Haneda route. However, any failure by Delta (absent DOT authorization) to operate any Seattle-Haneda flight, year-round, in either direction, would constitute a violation of its authority. Additionally, any failure by Delta (absent DOT authorization) to perform Seattle-Haneda service on two days of any seven-day period would mean the immediate loss of Delta’s authority.”

    There is no mentioned at all of each and every day. Help confused!!!

  14. @ john galbraith — In the post I shared the actual press release from the DOT, which in part said the following:
    “subject to additional conditions designed to ensure that Delta maintains a daily service in the Seattle market year-round.”

    I’m not sure how that could be interpreted any other way than “daily, year-round service,” exactly as the press release says.

    Did you read the actual ruling, which I linked to?
    http://www.regulations.gov/#%21documentDetail;D=DOT-OST-2010-0018-0426

    That’s where it explains the decision in great deal, including that the service is to be seven days a week, 365 days a year (not that there’s any other way to interpret “daily, year-round service,” in my opinion…

  15. @ Alex — Just to clarify, the DOT isn’t determining how many slots there are, per se. Rather there are a certain number of slots the airport makes available, and then the DOT is responsible for awarding those in a way that most benefits consumers.

  16. This seems like a fair ruling, although I wish DOT would just auction these slots instead of having some bureaucrats decide what the best use of them is.

  17. I wonder if the SEA market can really support three nonstops to the Tokyo area (NRT/HND). San Francisco – a much larger O/D market for travel to Japan and beyond – only has four daily nonstops.

  18. Hi Lucky. I did indeed read the ruling but I now see the original link you kindly provided the DOT was to the briefing room which did not have all the detail. All makes sense now although I agree even without the extra detail (full “judgement”) “year round daily” makes exactly that.

  19. This is a fair and reasonable ruling by the U.S. DOT. DL must commit to the terms and conditions of being granted this slot; no more, no less.

  20. My interpretation of the DoT’s decision regarding how often the route must be flown is: scheduled every day, and Delta cannot cancel more than one day’s service per week or they lose the slot. This protects flyers against Delta canceling flights due to low sales, as well as holding their feet to the fire to actually utilize the slot they claim to be the best usage for. I would expect having a day’s service canceled repeatedly over several weeks would also trigger a re-evaluation.

  21. Thanks for this heads up. The decision seems fair. I hope the remaining unresolved issue will be solved sooner — five convenient daytime slots (between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.) allocated for US carriers, and four for Japanese carriers (two each for JL and NH) to use for their US flights, are currently not utilized. The distribution of these slots were negotiated in fall 2013 between Japan and Canada, France, Germany, UK, and US, which led to the launch of daytime flights in spring 2014 for AC (YYZ), AF (CDG), BA (LHR), LH (FRA and MUC) and their Japanese counterparts, JL and NH.

    But the negotiation between Japan and the US was stalled seemingly because DOT failed to sort out conflicting positions of the US carriers.

    HND is really convenient if you come to Tokyo — Park Hyatt is less than 20 minutes cab ride, as compared with close to 90 minutes from NRT. The terminal is fairly decent — 5th best according to Sky Trax 2015. And you now have more options for connection to Asia. Hope we may have US carriers flying to HND in daytime soon!

  22. Ben, Any explanation in the ruling of the basis of delta’s claim that SEA-HND was the best use of the HND slot other than it would keep the slot out if the hands of another airline? Since delta did not even want to fully use this slot, it is hard to belive that keeping the slot with delta was the most meritorious use.

  23. Lucky: Thanks for the clarification. Although I still wonder what the situation would look like if DOT wasn’t involved with decisions like this. In theory, the airline industry was de-regulated in 1978… No doubt the current arrangement is superior to the old Civil Aviation Board, but it just feels like there should be a better solution.

  24. @ john — To be honest I haven’t investigated this too much, though the way I interpret the ruling is that they weren’t going off the basis of whether SEA-HND is actually still the best route, but instead were rather focused on whether Delta deserved to be “punished” for not operating the route properly. Do keep in mind that LAX-HND is already served by ANA, so there is some logic to extending HND service to other cities.

  25. maybe DL should get another pair of morning slots and fly HND-TSA RR then use the same aircraft to fly HND-SEA. HND-TPE is one of the hard route to get ticket, CI/BR/JL/NH each has 2 daily flight with 333/77W/787/767.

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