Japan Airlines Restructuring Sees Return to Seattle

 - April 2, 2019, 10:24 AM
A Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8 takes off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Photo: JAL)

Japan Airlines’ Sunday return of its nonstop intercontinental service between Tokyo's Narita Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport came as the company’s corporate tax exemption arising from its 2010 bankruptcy ended. But while JAL’s return to Seattle after a 26-year hiatus marks an important step for the company’s restructuring plan, it faces stiff competition from long-term rival All Nippon Airways (ANA), which operates a daily service using a Boeing 787-8. 

Flying its own Dreamliner in a 2-4-2 configuration in economy, JAL offers one daily flight, departing Narita at 6:05 p.m. and arriving in Seattle at 11:05 a.m. JAL’s return flight departs Seattle at 2:15 p.m. and arrives in Tokyo at 4:25 p.m. the following day. According to JAL, Seattle ranks as the fifth-largest destination from Japan, after Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas.

“Our new Seattle service perfectly complements JAL’s global network and increases our West Coast reach to six routes daily,” said JAL senior managing executive officer Hideki Kikuyama in a company statement. “Seattle business and leisure travel demand to Asia continues to grow, and we look forward to offering more travelers JAL’s five-star service and unique approach to hospitality.”

Through its partnership with Alaska Airlines, JAL now offers codeshare flights to 55 destinations through Seattle. The new route will not only enable JAL to boost its presence in the intercontinental market but also allow Alaska to expand its global network.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo-Seattle market receives nonstop service from Delta Air Lines, which uses an Airbus A350-900XWB. Delta plans to increase service to Japan this year with additional flights between Tokyo-Haneda Airport and five U.S. cities: Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta, and Portland as well as twice-daily service between Haneda and Honolulu.

JAL harbors its own plans to accelerate international expansion with the launch of its low-cost carrier (LCC), Zipair Tokyo, ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Due to launch in March 2020, Zipair will initially operate from Narita to Bangkok and Seoul before graduating to long-haul in 2021 with flights to North America and Europe. Plans call for Zipair to operate an all-Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner fleet, the first two of which JAL will provide. Following a conservative approach, Zipair will add two 787-8s annually for a total of ten 787s by the end of 2024.

In 2020, Zipair will become the first widebody LCC in Japan and the thirteenth in the Asia-Pacific region.