It’s already been a busy 2016 for American Airlines, which has announced several service enhancements and, on February 11, launched its inaugural service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Toyko International Airport, more commonly known as Haneda Airport (HND). Premium passengers will enjoy additional comfort and convenience both before the flight and onboard, while those in economy will be able to enjoy some of the little things they’ve missed in the past couple of years.
As for American’s new flight into HND, a launch party for VIPs was held the previous night at the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, and AirlineReporter was invited to the festivities.
American Launches LAX to Haneda: The Basics
Haneda Airport is located closer to Tokyo’s central core, and is thus a more desirable arrival airport for most business travelers destined for Tokyo; Narita International Airport (NRT), the main international gateway for the region, is located almost 50 miles away. Because of Haneda’s heavy use, landing/takeoff slot pairs are heavily regulated and subject to intense competition between airlines; daytime slots, between the hours of 7:00am and 11:00pm, are particularly difficult to come by.
There have been some interesting airline politics involved with getting this route off the ground. American petitioned the US Department of Transportation for authority to fly into HND, arguing that Delta Air Lines was underutilizing their HND right operated from Seattle. After much back and forth between the two airlines, a few DOT rulings, and several delays (which American blamed on inability to obtain a landing slot at HND), American was successfully able to secure the LAX-HND right, albeit utilizing less desirable nighttime slots.
This is not American’s first foray into HND; the carrier launched the first continental U.S.-Haneda service from New York in February 2011 with Boeing 777-200s, only to cancel it less than two years later, primarily due to unprofitability caused by the late night arrivals and departures. This time, the airline has chosen to fly from LAX using the smaller and more efficient Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (more on service and amenities below).
Currently, American operates the following daily schedule
- AA27 departs from LAX at 6:00pm, arrives into HND at 11:00pm
- AA28 departs from HND at 1:30am, arrives into LAX at 6:15pm.
There is also long-standing service from LAX to NRT on both American and their Oneworld partner Japan Airlines, with both flights departing LAX in the middle of the day.
While the late night schedule at HND may not be desirable, there’s a bright light at the end of the tunnel; on Thursday, a week after the launch of this route, the governments of the United States and Japan reached an agreement that will enable American to switch to daytime slots this coming Fall. In a press release, American Airlines’ President Scott Kirby thanked political leaders on both sides, noting, “It’s important for our customers to have convenient access to downtown Tokyo during the day, and this agreement also allows for desirable arrival and departure times in the U.S. for Haneda service.” The earlier slots would allow for better connectivity to onward flights from both LAX and HND.
While some industry insiders have wondered if two daily flights from LAX to Tokyo is sustainable, American remains committed to serving both HND and NRT. A spokesperson for the airline stated, “We’re always evaluating our network and the LAX-NRT flight remains in the schedule at this time. Narita is and will continue to be an important airport for American.”
American Launches LAX to Haneda: The Hardware
American’s 787-8 is configured with two classes of service, with 28 seats in business and 198 in economy for a total of 226 seats. All seats have a touch-enabled entertainment screen, USB charging, and universal A/C power outlets. Inflight Wi-Fi is available for approximately $20 per flight. The 787 also boasts higher humidity and air pressure, which decreases fatigue over the course of a long-haul flight. Then there are the cool tech-y touches like the LED mood lighting and the electronic window shades.
Up front is an unusual, proprietary business class configuration that incorporates both a reverse herringbone and an alternating fore-/aft-facing pattern. The seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 layout with all seats having direct aisle access,similar to those found on American’s (and Cathay Pacific’s, for that matter) 777-300ER.
In economy, the seats are arranged in the industry-standard 9-abreast, 3-3-3 configuration. There are 57 Main Cabin Extra seats with a few inches of extra legroom, and the rest of the 141 regular economy seats have 31 inches of pitch.
American Launches LAX to Haneda: Enhanced Meal Service
With no first class cabin on this route to HND, American provides an enhanced meal service in both business and economy class. For passengers in business class wanting to maximize sleeping time, an “express” option is available, where complete meals are brought out all at once versus being split up into separate courses. A sampling of the meals, catered by GateGourmet, were on display at the event.
Business Class Meals
Economy Class Meals
American Launches LAX to Haneda: The Launch Party
Hosting glitzy parties for major milestones is the thing to do in an image-driven town like L.A, and American seems to have taken its #BestinLAX theme to heart. On the eve the inaugural flight, the company invited local VIPs, travel and tourism professionals, and L.A.-based executives from Oneworld partner Japan Airlines to join American executives to celebrate in the heart of the Japanese community in Los Angeles. The George & Sakaye Aratani Central Hall at the Japanese American National Museum was transformed into a showcase of live performances, delicious delicacies, words from dignitaries, and feats of strength, not to mention a display of the enhanced catering just for the flight to Haneda.
American Launches LAX to Haneda: The Inaugural Flight
The next day, the celebration shifted to Gate 41 at LAX, where balloons, Japanese appetizers, and soft-drinks greeted passengers walking into the waiting area.
Then came time for a few quick words from American Airlines’ Senior Vice President, Suzanna Boda as well as Consul General Harry Horinouchi, followed by the obligatory ribbon cutting.
There was also a special guest for the flight: Tasha Heusinger, a Make-A-Wish recipient from Virginia who is an anime fan and always had a lifelong dream of visiting Tokyo to see the birthplace of anime with her own eyes. The Make-A-Wish Foundation specializes in granting wishes to children who are diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions, and was able to team up with American to have Tasha and her family take such a momentous trip.
All told, business class was full while there were only about 86 passengers in economy. Because of the light load, the passengers were able to board quickly, and the flight managed to depart ten minutes early.
With continued investment into premium travel, a right-sized cost-effective aircraft, and reasonable arrival and departure times at HND, American has a formula for success on this market. I would not be surprised if it does so amazingly well that the plane is upgauged to a 777-300ER in the future.
This article was updated 2/19/2016 at 1:45pm PT to include further information provided by American Airlines.