United Airlines attempts to broaden its scope at Tokyo Haneda as slot dormancy waivers expire


United Airlines is continuing its efforts to bolster its position as the leading US airline serving the Asia-Pacific by seeking a slot pair at Tokyo Haneda airport - one being relinquished by Delta Air Lines - and slots held by Hawaiian Airlines for service to Haneda from its hub in Houston and Guam. Chicago-based United told the US Transportation Department (DOT) in a 25-Sep-2023 filing it could launch the new service as early as 01-Dec-2023 if it received the final award for the flights.

The slots were awarded to Delta and Hawaiian in 2019, but are subject dormancy waivers that expire at the end of Oct-2023.

United has been vocal that underutilised slots for Haneda need to be put to their best use, and now US regulators must decide if United's proposed service will maximise the value of those slots.

  • United Airlines aims to expand its footprint at Tokyo Haneda with a newly available slot pair.
  • The airline has told the US Transportation Department (DOT) that it could launch the new service as early as 01-Dec-2023 if it receives the final award for the flights.
  • United Airlines is questioning whether Hawaiian Airlines is going to use a night time slot for service to Haneda.
  • Chicago-based United Airlines is working to strengthen its already strong Asia-Pacific network.

United aims to add Houston to its roster of flights to Tokyo Haneda

Chicago-based United told the US Transportation Department (DOT) in a 25-Sep-2023 filing it could launch the new service as early as 01-Dec-2023 if it received the final award for the flights.

United is seeking the slots just as dormancy waivers granted to airlines during the coronavirus pandemic that allowed operators to postpone launching routes to Haneda expire on 28-Oct-2023.

Earlier in 2023 Delta asked the DOT to grant airlines flexibility to use the slot pairs to operate to Haneda from any US market, rather than the cities assigned to each airline in the 2019 slot allocation. DOT rejected Delta's request. United was critical of Delta's proposal, saying that Delta was "gaming the system."

On 22-Sep-2023 Delta informed the DOT that it would not utilise the slot it holds for flights from Portland to Haneda. Now United is asking for that slot pair to launch daily flights from its hub at Houston Intercontinental Airport to Haneda.

United stated that although Houston was not selected in the previous Haneda route proceeding, the DOT recognised that United's proposal would offer connections to Haneda from 32 US airports and provide the Southern United States with an alternative US-Haneda gateway.

Delta operates to Haneda from its hubs in Atlanta, Minneapolis and Detroit. The airline also has flights to Haneda from Seattle and Los Angeles.

United operates to Haneda from Los Angeles and its hubs in Chicago O'Hare, Newark, San Francisco and Washington Dulles.

United would also use slots that Hawaiian could possibly relinquish

United has also applied for five weekly frequencies from Guam to Haneda using a nighttime-only slot pair held by Hawaiian for service from Kona/Honolulu to Haneda. United expressed to DOT that Hawaiian had shown no plans to operate the service.

"Should Hawaiian consolidate flying to their two daytime slots, United would request the final two weekly nighttime frequencies", the airline told the US DOT.

United said that although it understood that the devastation of the Maui wildfire tragedy had impacted travel in Hawaii, Hawaiian was not fully utilising its Haneda slots before that event.

"There is no indication based on its pricing and schedule loads that it was going to fully utilise the nighttime only slot pair", United said.

Chicago-based United has also said that although it remains deeply sympathetic to the devastation in Maui, the company "does not believe the circumstances warrant Hawaiian special flexibility or alleviation from the conditions associated with the slot pairs, should Hawaiian attempt to suggest so".

United believes that its proposed service from Guam to Haneda would give the island a "chance to compete with Hawaii in the Haneda-US market, including for Japanese travellers who are critical to Guam's economy and who prefer Haneda as an origin or connecting point for their travel needs".

United is working to seize opportunities to build up its strength in Asia

United has been bullish about the recovery in Asia, and its next expansion occurs in Oct-2023: new flights from San Francisco to Manila, and the addition of daily year-round service from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, which will complement its existing Hong Kong-San Francisco service. Over the Northern Hemisphere winter, United will operate a total of three daily flights to Hong Kong from those two US airports.

The airline is also planning to restore service from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita, which will join existing flights to Tokyo Haneda.

Earlier in 2023 United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said, simply put, that Asia was "going gangbusters."

See the related CAPA - Centre for Aviation report: United Airlines continues to see upside from its bet on long haul growth

United is the largest airline operating from the US to the Asia-Pacific. According to data from CAPA and OAG, United's one-way seat share between the two regions as of late Sep-2023 was 15.6%, followed by Korean Air's 8.6%. EVA Air's share was 7.7%, and Delta and All Nippon Airways (ANA) each had a share of 6.7%.

Between the US and Japan, ANA was the leader, with a 24.8% she, followed by Japan Airlines and United, each with a share of 22.6%.

Delta's share was 10.8%.

The fate of United's Haneda expansion rests with US regulators

United is attempting to seize on the upside of the recovery in traffic to Asia and bolster its presence at one of the most important airports in the region.

Now the fate of its potential expansion rests with US regulators.

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