MIAMI — United Airlines launched its second daily flight between Houston and Tokyo Narita early Sunday morning. Fifteen years ago, United/Continental Airlines started flying between Houston and Tokyo.
One cannot forget the hard work of making this route a reality.
How the Route Became a Reality
In the late 1990s, there was a large competition over who would receive rights to fly from the United States mainland to Japan. Not only was it a growing market, U.S. airlines had been mostly shut out of the lucrative and restricted Japanese market. However, 69 U.S.-Japan weekly flights became available for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to dole out, and several airlines expressed their interest, including Continental.
Houston’s business and aviation community wanted a direct flight to Japan, and naturally saw this as their chance to turn a dream into a reality. When the DOT requested carriers to name the routes they most preferred to fly, Continental Airlines would only say it needed authority to fly daily flights from Newark and Houston.
On January 30, 1998, the United States and Japanese governments signed an agreement that would allow U.S. airlines to operate 90 new flights a week. However, the DOT would only allow 21 weekly flights to operate between the United States mainland and Japan on a 12-month temporary basis.
American, Continental and Delta all won seven weekly flights. American launched flights between Chicago and Tokyo on May 1, 1998, followed by Delta, operating Atlanta-Tokyo, on June 3, 1998.
Continental, however, had to make a decision. Would it fly to Tokyo daily from Houston or from Newark. Or would it alternate flights between the two cities?
Two weeks later, Continental selected its Newark hub to operate its initial U.S. mainland flights to Tokyo in order to stay competitive in the New York City market. Although this was a major let down for Houston, Continental spokeswoman Karla Taylor Villalon told the AP at the time that “We have every belief that Continental and Houston will be awarded more (weekly flights),” and she went on to say that Continental planned to launch flights to Tokyo from Houston the following December, despite not knowing if the city would receive approval to do so.
Thankfully Villalon proved right, and later the same year Continental was awarded service to launch daily flights to Houston. This would be Houston’s first and only non-stop flight to Asia.
Continental launched flights between Newark and Tokyo on November 30, 1998 with its brand new Boeing 777-200.
Two months later, Continental Airlines flew its first flight from Houston to Tokyo on January 31, 1999. A large event was held at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to celebrate the new route. Several dozen company executives, federal, state and local dignitaries and business leaders attended the launch party. Speeches were given, a Shinto priest blessed the aircraft, a ribbon was cut, and Continental flight 7 was sent off to Tokyo.
For fifteen years, the lone flight from Houston to Tokyo has departed each morning as Continental/United flight 7 through rain, snow, sleet, and shine. And sure enough, every day the Boeing 777-200 returned to Houston in the early afternoon.
The New Flight
In November 2013, United begin a second daily flight between Houston and Tokyo in spring 2014 when it announced plans to launch flights to Munich from Houston on April 24, 2014.
“The new flights from Houston further expand United’s unmatched route network and offer additional travel opportunities with our joint venture partners ANA and Lufthansa,” said Cheryl Reed, United’s Houston regional sales director. “In addition to adding more nonstop service from Houston, the flights are conveniently timed to provide one-stop connections at the hub from destinations across the Americas.”
“United is pleased to offer Houston-area travelers more flights to more of the world than any other airline,” said Stephanie Buchanan, United’s vice president of the Houston hub. “Besides adding additional nonstop flights from Houston, both the Tokyo and the Atlantic City services are conveniently timed to provide one-stop connections at the hub to and from destinations across the Americas.”
United flight 1 will depart Bush Intercontinental at 9 AM and arrive at Tokyo’s Naritia International Airport at 12:35 PM the next day. The return flight, United 2, will depart Tokyo at 6:55 PM and arrive in Houston at 4:55 PM the same day.
The existing flight to Tokyo, United flight 7, departs Bush Intercontinental at 10:55 AM and arrives at Tokyo’s Naritia International Airport at 2:30 PM the next day. The return flight, United 6, departs Tokyo at 3:45 PM and arrives in Houston at 1:40 PM the same day.
The flight times are set up to offer “convenient round-trip connections at Narita to the airline’s flights to Guam, Seoul and Singapore, as well as to flights operated by United’s joint-venture partner ANA to 19 destinations in Asia, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Taipei,” according to a press release.
Both flights are operated by a Boeing 777-200. The aircraft has 267 seats with 50 in United BusinessFirst and 217 (including 72 Economy Plus seats) in United Economy.