MIAMI — Delta Air Lines is making its nonstop service between Seattle and Tokyo Haneda seasonal, removing service on the route between October 1, 2014 and March 29, 2015. Delta had planned to serve the route daily with a Boeing 767-300ER, but suspended the service due to poor advance bookings and the general weakness of US carrier services to Tokyo Haneda. Delta’s current flight schedules for service to Tokyo Haneda are as follow:

DL 581 ~~ SEA – HND ~~ D: 1822 A: 2235+1 ~~ Daily
DL 580 ~~ HND – SEA ~~ D: 0015 A: 1624-1 ~~ Daily

Delta initially served Tokyo Haneda from Detroit and Los Angeles when granted two slots back in 2010, but moved its Detroit service to Seattle in 2013, adding to its growing portfolio of international destinations at Seattle. However, as with other flights between the United States and Tokyo Haneda, the route has suffered from poor demand. The table to the left displays load factors for the months of October 2013 through March 2014, and the figures are not pretty. October and November were particularly abysmal, and while December outbound and January inbound loads were predictably boosted by the holiday season, traffic once again declined in February and March.

The demand challenges for US airlines are driven primarily by Japan’s Ministry of Transport (MoT), who allocated awkward and ungainly nighttime slots for services to and from the United States. These late night flight timings are unattractive for origin and destination (O&D) customers, because by the time they clear immigration, the trains from Haneda into Tokyo shut down by midnight, and the cost of taxis is prohibitive. Admittedly, Delta partly brought these challenges onto itself by operating a flight that arrives at Haneda at 10:35 pm. But its only alternative is to operate a late-night departure from Seattle (at roughly midnight) that arrives in Tokyo in the morning (at roughly am), leave the aircraft on the ground in Tokyo all day, and then operate a late night departure, which reduces aircraft utilization. The only US carrier that has found success operating to Haneda is Hawaiian Airlines, whose home base in Honolulu is better-located to serve Haneda during the nighttime window. Delta also applied to move its Los Angeles – Haneda services to Honolulu, and Honolulu, Guam, and perhaps Kona appear to be the only airports that could support service to Haneda in the United States.

While Delta will likely maintain service to Tokyo Haneda after March in order to maintain its control over the potentially valuable slots, that strategy will only pay off if Japan and the US come to an agreement that allows US carriers to operate daytime flights at Haneda during a review process this October. But for the moment, service to Tokyo Haneda from US carriers will continue to suffer.