Delta Air Lines has asked the US government to relax slot rules for flights between the USA and Tokyo’s Haneda International airport due to a “fundamentally changed” demand environment.

The Atlanta-based carrier said in a filing with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) on 1 May that demand assumptions for various routes from the USA are “no longer valid” in the post-Covid-19 era, and “need to be reassessed and refined to align capacity to actual demand”.

The global pandemic, it says, “materially altered the competitive landscape” on flights between the USA and Japan’s capital.

Earlier this year, the DOT extended slot relief for airlines flying to China, Hong Kong and Japan due to continued depressed demand for travel on those routes. The relief temporarily allows airlines to leave slot assignments unused without risking losing them. 

Now, Delta wants the DOT to ease Haneda slot restrictions. Specifically, Delta is asking the agency to grant US carriers authority to “use up to two of their slots to serve Haneda from” any US airport, its filing says. Currently, the DOT authorities specify from which cities US airlines must serve Haneda.

A350-900 MSN115 Delta Taxiing

Source: Airbus

Delta requests slot flexibility for flights to Tokyo’s Haneda International airport

“The department’s endorsement of flexible, market-based decision-making to help air carriers navigate the operational challenges caused by Covid-19 in the context of the limited entry start up and dormancy waivers was astute and well-reasoned,” Delta says. “It would be equally appropriate for the department to endorse such flexibility and market-based decision-making for US-Haneda service as the demand environment slowly stabilises and US-Haneda slot holders recalibrate their international networks.”

“Just as air carriers need flexibility to make market-based decisions on when and where to deploy their network and operational assets for purposes of preserving their limited-entry DOT-issued international route authorities, so too do they need flexibility to determine the optimal US gateways for serving Haneda,” Delta adds.

The airline holds slots to serve Haneda from seven US cities; Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis-St Paul, Portland and Honolulu. Delta says demand on those routes has recovered only 64% or less. In the first quarter of 2023, it operated flights to Haneda from just the first four of those cities.

“Unquestionably, international air travel volumes remain depressed relative to 2019; however, the gap between Tokyo and other top long-haul international destinations is especially pronounced,” Delta’s filing says.

Granting carriers gateway flexibility to Haneda would “deliver substantial public benefits in the form of more convenient and desirable flying options for consumers, enhanced competition and flexibility, allowing airlines to tailor capacity to actual demand.”

“Delta is proposing a measured, narrowly tailored solution that would benefit all US-Haneda slot holding carriers,” it writes.

Other US carriers that hold those slot rights at the airport include United Airlines, American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. None immediately responded to a request for comment on the proposal.

According to Cirium networks data, ANA plans to operate the most nonstop connections between the USA and Haneda this month – 585, to eight US cities. Japan Airlines serves six US cities from Haneda with 441 scheduled flights this month.

The three US carriers combined have about 800 direct connections between their US hubs and Tokyo Haneda scheduled during the month.