With the recent announcements that Delta is switching their Japanese operations solely to Haneda Airport, the increased slot allocation to United, and increasing flights overall out of Haneda to the USA, it’s pretty obvious what Haneda is to become next year when all of these changes take place: Haneda is now Japan’s primary US gateway.
Delta’s flights from Narita–currently to Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle, Honolulu, and Portland, as well as a connection flight to Manila–will all transfer to Haneda Airport from March 28, 2020. The Manila flight will be cancelled completely out of Narita, instead operating out of an improved Skyteam partnership with Korean Airlines at Seoul Incheon Airport.
American Airlines’s flights from Narita–currently to O’hare, DFW, and LA–will be significantly pared down, leaving only a flight to DFW Airport and the other two flights joining the DFW flight already out of Haneda. United as well will significantly reduce service out of Narita, moving their O’Hare and Washington flights to Haneda. It should be noted JAL and ANA have not right now said if they would replace some of the routes pared down by AA or UA.
That’s a significant amount of investment from these airlines into Haneda Airport.
Now how did Haneda become such an important airport to these US-based airlines? The first answer is, it couldn’t handle these flights at first. Haneda is in a weird position between Narita Airport’s airspace, which has a priority label here in Japan, and the USAF’s Yokota Airbase, around which the airspace below a certain flight level (equivalent to a class Bravo airspace designation in the US) would be owned by the United States.
Under a new agreement, that airspace to the east of the base, around central Tokyo, has just been returned to Japanese control. As such, new STAR arrival routes and new departure routes allow for more capacity on Haneda’s many runways.
Until this airspace is fully returned to Japanese control and the new STAR and Departure routes are implemented, aircraft departing or arriving at Haneda must follow very compact approach proceedings. Aircraft sometimes have to make an immediate bank upon departure and fly over arriving flights, an enormous safety hazard. Have a look at this Flightradar24 screengrab below:
You can see how inconvenient and time-wasting this whole process can be. In aviation, time means money. Jet engines burn an immense amount of fuel, and any sort of savings by streamlining the arrival and departure routes could mean huge savings by airlines. Not only that, the more airplanes that are able to be filed into Haneda, the more capacity Haneda has for all the flights from America.
The second reason DL, UA, and AA are choosing to expand their presence at Haneda is because of its proximity to the center of Tokyo. Narita is in the city of Narita, Chiba, and despite being about 35 miles as the crow flies, the railway connections to NRT can be between 35 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on your destination within the wide swath of Tokyo’s urban area.
Haneda, on the other hand, is in the 23 special wards, connected to central Tokyo in 20 or so minutes, and is easily accessible by Tokyo’s suburbanites living in Kanagawa Prefecture. With the Olympics coming next year to Tokyo, this accessibility to the center of the city is important to tourists and dignitaries coming to Japan.
Now I’ve covered the differences between Haneda and Narita in this video here. If you want to know more about these differences I suggest watching this video, but to summarize, aside from what I said about STAR routes at HND and more shopping availability post-security at NRT, the major difference to me personally was choice. I love connecting at Minneapolis Airport, and Delta’s flight to MSP is easily my transpac flight of choice. With DL making this huge, bold step to invest heavily at Haneda, I think my choices will be even more diverse. If Haneda’s international terminal adds a konbini or some other post-security options, Haneda will easily be the only airport I use to go back to the States for my yearly vacations.
If you’re planning on coming for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics next year, consider taking one of these new flights into Haneda. Enjoy the arrival route over central Tokyo…it will be a free midair tour of Tokyo!