In Tokyo: New airport options

Haneda Airport International Terminal New Wing

The new wing at Haneda Airport’s International Terminal (Photo: Jun Seita / Flickr)

Quick — where is Tokyo International Airport? If you haven’t flown into Japan recently, your reflex response might be “Narita,” the airport located well over an hour east of the capital by train or even longer by taxi or shuttle bus.

However, closer-in Haneda (HND) is also known as Tokyo International Airport. This near-city-center airport is getting an increasing amount of attention with a newly expanded international terminal that turns four this month, and a handful of new flights.

For example, United launches a new daily nonstop from SFO to Haneda this Sunday October 26th, using a three-class 777-200ER. On December 1, Japan Airlines will deploy a larger, newly revamped, four-class Sky Suite 777 on the SFO>HND run. And American Airlines is fighting to get in on the Haneda action.

United’s new flight departs SFO at 6:15 pm and arrives at HND 10:45 pm the next day. From Tokyo, the flight departs at 1:00 am and arrives in SFO at 5:10 pm.

On the plus side of the scheduling for US flyers,  return flights from Haneda are a pleasing late night departure (ideal for connecting from elsewhere in Japan or Asia, since Haneda has far more domestic flights than Narita), and tend to arrive at west coast hubs in the late afternoon, in time for a 7-9pm connection– or dinner and bed.

(Note: Starting in Sunday, United will operate once-daily service between SFO and Narita, rather than the twice-daily service currently offered.)

United seat map

Looks like United’s new Haneda flight is popular with business travelers already… only 5 biz class seats left on Sunday’s inaugural flight last time we checked.

Frequent Tokyo traveler and TravelSkills reader Hitoshi Hokamura told us, “I have been flying SFO-Narita for 23 years but after a one-time experience on a Haneda night flight, I have completely switched to HND for both my business and pleasure trips. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo, plus timing is great. For example, with Narita flights, my first day and last day of the trip used to be chopped in two on both ends, but with this night flight to/from Haneda, I have almost a full day on both ends .”

In addition the United’s and JAL flights from SFO, flyers from or connecting in North America also have the option of Haneda flights from:

  • Los Angeles, Honolulu and Vancouver on ANA
  • Honolulu on JAL
  • Los Angeles (and seasonally Seattle, but more about that below) on Delta
  • Toronto on Air Canada
  • Honolulu on Hawaiian

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So why aren’t we all flying to Haneda? Well, the authorities granting slots for Haneda have been slow to let non-Japanese carriers in — and when airlines like Delta and American have been granted slots, they’re forced to depart and arrive during inconvenient overnight hours. (Haneda is the second busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world.)

That type of restriction on US carriers makes Haneda flights only effective for flights to and from the west coast. That’s why American cut its New York JFK-Haneda flight last October, and that’s why Delta shifted its Detroit-Haneda flight to Seattle.

More controversially, timing is also allegedly part of the reason why Delta’s flight is operating on what’s basically a seasonal basis. For its part, American doesn’t think Delta’s playing fair, and has asked the US DOT to hand over Delta’s slot for Los Angeles service — so we could see an American Airlines flight shifting from Narita to Haneda if the DOT agrees.

Haneda vs Narita: Which is best for you?

Choose Haneda for: Evening west coast US departures, evening US west coast arrivals/connections, late night Japan departures, if your destination is Tokyo, or if you’re connecting late in the day on a return from another city

Choose Narita for: More flight options, non stops from non-West-Coast cities, same-day connections to major Japanese cities, if you want to connect on a US airline elsewhere in Asia for upgrade or status reasons, wider choice of connections to Asia.

Related: Trip Report: ANA’s Dreamliner to Tokyo


Good Advice for getting to or from Haneda:

Keikyu, the primary railway company for access from Haneda, is probably the best way to get to or from Haneda for most business travelers, and offers three options: $10 on a fast, clean train to Shinagawa station in 12 minutes for Y410 (knock off two zeroes to convert approximately to USD, so about $4) or Tokyo station in 20-30 minutes for Y580). Compare that with over $30 on the NEX train from Narita or $25 on the more complicated Keisei option.

Second, Keikyu and other companies offer limousine buses that are direct with no transfers, take about an hour and range from $10-25 depending on your destination. That’s less than half the time and about half the cost of Narita limousine buses.

Third, there’s a set-fare taxi option that will set you back the best part of $85, but is obviously door-to-door to or from your hotel. That’s less than a third the price of a taxi from Narita, which is in excess of $200.

And, lastly, there’s the Tokyo Monorail, which is a bit of an advanced user option that connects to four lines including Tokyo’s circular Yamanote Line. If you’re familiar with Tokyo and know how the Suica card system works (it’s a tap-the-card payment system that works across Tokyo and several other cities in Japan for everything from transport to vending machines), then this is probably the best option for you.

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Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(TOKYO, JAPAN) Here I sit at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo (the Lost in Translation hotel) watching the morning sun hit Mt Fuji, and watching the headlines and emails about the FAA’s grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner spew forth from my laptop.

As you may know from previous posts, I flew to Tokyo last Saturday aboard one of the first Dreamliner flights to depart San Jose International airport. While there were operational issues with the aircraft at that time,  passengers I spoke with felt confident about flying the brand new 158-passenger bird across the Pacific. Our 10-hour flight to Tokyo was delightful and without incident.

I was traveling with a group of travel media, and during our interviews with ANA executives on Tuesday, we were assured that these were “teething issues” that fell within the band of normalcy for any new aircraft. They were still very excited about the aircraft with plans to buy several more.

While new at San Jose, ANA has been flying the 787 for a year and a half, with rave reviews from passengers, pilots and the media in general. We had heard US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood state a few days earlier that he’d feel confident flying on a 787.

Then, on Wednesday morning here in Tokyo, we heard that a Dreamliner had made an emergency landing at an airport in western Japan, and that all passengers had been evacuated. Apparently, an indicator light told pilots that there was a battery issue, and that there was an unusual odor in the cockpit. After that incident, ANA immediately grounded its fleet of 17 Dreamliners and launched an investigation into the cause. At that time in the US, the FAA said that it was looking into the incident.

Inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Half of our media group had reservations to fly out of Tokyo bound for San Jose on the 787 on Wednesday afternoon. However, thanks to the slower winter travel season and quick action on the part of ANA staff, there was enough room on Wednesday’s ANA flight to San Francisco to accommodate the group and they all got home safely. I was glad I had already booked my return trip to SFO on an ANA Boeing 777 (instead of the 787 into SJC) for later this week.

Last night, I pondered what all this meant as I sat having a meal in the Park Hyatt’s New York Grill & Bar, thinking about Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation drinking Suntory whiskey, listening to a “Sausalito”-like chanteuse croon while the Tokyo skyline twinkled 52 stories below.

I had a great night’s sleep (almost no jet lag on this trip…maybe due to the 787’s new cabin pressurization … or the Park Hyatt’s comfy beds?) and awoke to another bombshell: The US Federal Aviation Administration had grounded the 787 until it could determine the cause of the incident.

With sketchy information and investigations underway, it’s too early to conclude that the aircraft is fundamentally flawed. But the recent rash of incidents and media hype around them are certain to cause concern…

Here’s a list of what is swirling around in my head about this now. Conclusions will come later….

>First, I’m grateful to be safe and sound in a nice hotel in Tokyo, and not stuck at an airport due to a flight cancellation. I’m glad to have the chance to ride on the 787… and equally glad I have a reservation to get back to San Francisco an ANA 777.

>It’s tough to speculate on what this means for ANA’s new 787 flights between Tokyo and San Jose. The 158-passenger Dreamliner is perfect for a “long, thin” route like Tokyo-San Jose. I think it’s unlikely that ANA will substitute another aircraft on the route—such as a Boeing 777 or 767 because they are simply too big—there is not enough demand in the South Bay to keep a 200-300 seat aircraft full. (American Airlines used to have a 777 on the route, but discontinued the flight in 2006.) So if the grounding of the 787 is short term, the outlook for the route should be okay… is it’s a long-term affair, the future of the route is cloudy.

>ANA is handling cancellations on a day-to-day basis– for example, I’ve just learned that Friday’s flight between Tokyo and San Jose has been canceled, but no decision has been made for Saturday’s flight. On ANA alone, Dreamliner cancellations affect the plans of 4,800 passengers per day, according to a spokesperson.

>The impact of the controversy is likely felt most acutely here in Japan– ANA has a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, most of which are used for domestic flying, so re-accommodating passengers is causing some pain. Japan Airlines has grounded seven 787s. In addition, the lithium ion batteries in question are made in Japan. It’s difficult to watch all this come down on the gentle, polite Japanese who feel deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the whole affair.

>The current FAA grounding will affect flights on United’s 6 Dreamliners, however, none of them now fly into the Bay Area, so the local impact is minimal. United is the only US carrier now operating the plane.

>For perspective, I think it’s important to look at a similar incident regarding the giant Airbus A380 last year. If you recall, serious structural and mechanical issues (cracks in wings and an engine fire) forced Australian authorities to ground the plane until remedies were in place. The grounding was temporary, and the A380 was quickly back in the skies. Hopefully, engineers will be able to find a similar fix for the Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries, which seem to be the cause of the jet’s most severe problems at the moment.

>Even if the 787 gets back in the skies quickly, some business travelers will likely book away from 787 flights out of fear that future groundings or reliability issues could foul their travel plans.

>Regarding how the airlines might get this fixed, Hudson Crossing aviation analyst Henry Harteveldt told TravelSkills: “It’s possible the correction may be a multi-step process — a short-term ‘tactical’ fix followed by more in-depth corrections, which may be more complex. Short-term, we may see the FAA recommend airlines limit the types of routes where they operate the 787 — for example, flights that last no longer than a certain number of hours, flights that operate only over land (or close to it), or both. Longer term, the FAA may recommend adding a fire suppression system to the battery bays, replacing the lithium-ion batteries, or something else.”

>The big question remains: Is this plane truly safe to fly? At this point, no one really knows. It’s going to be interesting to watch this pan out.

I’m firmly in the “wait and see” category when it comes to the idea of booking flights on the 787 in the near future. What about you? How do you feel about the 787? Do you trust the airlines, manufacturers and government regulators to keep you safe? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Inflight: ANA’s Boeing 787 from San Jose to Tokyo [PHOTOS]


(Tokyo, Japan) Wow. I’ve just flown across the Pacific on the world’s most advanced commercial jet– the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is the  only 787 currently flying out of the Bay Area (United’s 787 to Houston was only temporary), and the only transoceanic flight out of San Jose International Airport. And despite the recent concerns about the 787, I felt completely safe on this plane, as did all other passengers I spoke with.

Now I’m sitting in a Tokyo hotel loading up some great slideshow photos of the trip and recounting the flight. Some thoughts:

>I live in San Francisco, so I imagined that the 45-60 minute drive (depending on traffic) down to San Jose would be a pain– however, the quick and easy check-in, security and boarding process at SJC made up for time I felt I’d lost on the trip down.

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)– it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, window seaters can adjust the tint electronically– sort of like Transitions Lenses.

>Lower pressure and higher humidity in the 787 cabin are detectable– for one thing, your eyes and lips don’t dry out as fast. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling other than to say that cabin air just felt softer. And I felt better when I got off the plane.

>I felt slightly more vibration from the engines on this flight, likely due to the plane’s composite structure. Also, seat cushions seemed harder than average.

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage– there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane.

>Seatback inflight entertainment screens are big– 17 inches in business, 11 inches in economy. Both classes have 160 channels to choose from.

>In business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats– check out the slideshow and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space.

>Inflight dining in business class blew me away– the food and drink menu is 24 pages long (!), well suited to both western and Japanese palates. (I went native and ordered off the Japanese menu…See the slideshow above to learn which was my favorite dish. Oishii!)

>The Dreamliner is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy– it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

>ANA’s roundtrip coach fares between SJC and NRT are about $1,500… Business class fares are in the $4,000 range,  pretty much the same as Tokyo fares out of SFO. ANA is a Star Alliance partner, which means opportunities for earning and burning Mileage Plus miles on these flights.

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory– and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer–  you’ve got to flip through the slideshow above to see it!

So whaddya think? Would you be willing to drive down to San Jose to give ANA’s 787 a try? If you live in the South Bay, will you be able to break out of your habit of driving to SFO to fly to Asia? Would you consider flying ANA to points beyond Tokyo? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: ANA covered the cost of my trip to Tokyo.


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Airline update March 11, 2011


JAPAN EARTHQUAKE. Having just visited Japan last year, our hearts go out to its gentle people this morning. News is happening faster that we can cover here in The TICKET. But anyone with plans to travel to Japan over the next month should re-consider. The US State Department has sent out an alert advising travelers to stay away until at least April 1. All flights to Tokyo have been canceled or diverted to cities in southern Japan. Delta is waiving change fees. All public transport in and around Tokyo is shut down. While the US west coast is under a tsunami warning, public transport (such as BART in SF) is operational. Low tides there could cancel out any significant impact of the wave.

DELTA’S #1. FORTUNE magazine puts Delta in its own elite status category, recently naming it “Most Admired Airline” worldwide in its annual survey that takes into account feedback from industry professionals and airline analysts. This is the first time Delta ranked at the top of FORTUNE’s heap, besting legendary greats like Singapore Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The honor ranked Delta highly in areas such as social responsibility, competitiveness and quality of management. However, when it comes to “quality of product” Delta ranked far below competitors.  I’m certain that there is divergent opinion among TICKET readers about this, so please, fire way! Click on the link below to leave your comments.

ELITE PARKING FOR ELITE FLYERS. Driving to an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field later this spring?  Delta is offering a new benefit to hometown loyalists that extends beyond the airport. SkyMiles Medallion level members will enjoy private parking in the Green Lot close to the stadium featuring 500 spaces reserved just for them. Flash your current membership card and pay the standard parking rates ($12) and save yourself a few steps. The Delta lot is directly across from the Turner Field main entrance at the corner of Hank Aaron Drive and Ralph D. Abernathy Drive. (NOTE: Keep an eye out for more Atlanta-specific bennies like this as Delta prepares to wage war with Southwest later this year.)

A NOTE ABOUT AIRTRAN. More AirTran news and updates forthcoming. While the Southwest and AirTran deal is scrutinized by regulators, no one is saying much. The deal should close in May….and there will be a LOT to say after that. One thing we have noticed is that Southwest’s once high-flying on-time performance record has tanked over the last year. It will be interesting to watch Southwest try to pull out of that hole once it’s largest hub is delay-proned ATL. Stay tuned!

BUSINESS CLASS TO LONDON: Delta’s new flights to London from Miami and Boston must be kinda light…the carrier is discounting Business Elite to just $599 each way from certain cities (not ATL)  March 26-May 17.

SPRING BREAK WARNING. We are in the midst of Spring Break. That means business travelers should be prepared for crowded airports and airplanes full of rowdy students, especially on flights to/from beachy climes. Beware, especially on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when most students are traveling. AirTran lines at ATL always seem to swell surprisingly at this time of year. To avoid noise,  consider asking for hotel rooms away from hotel pool areas at this time of year. Book away from the beach. (Unless, of course, you’d like to join the fun!)

DELTA FACE-FIRST INTO FACEBOOK. Social media mavens will be glad to know the popular @DeltaAssist Twitter contact is now making a presence on Facebook. Followers of @DeltaAssist have been pleasantly surprised with the nearly instant responses to questions and concerns regarding their travel plans. The positive feedback has led to the expansion of DeltaAssist to Facebook. Kudos to Delta for jumping face-first into the social media landscape. Customers now have another way to connect for anything from an unanswered complaint to a flight irregularity. (Speaking of Facebook, are you following The TICKET? Please do!)

Delta passenger wait to board at Tokyo-Narita (Photo: Elmada)

AWARD LEVELS TAKE A LEAP IN ASIA. Delta has made some changes to the SkyMiles award chart. There was no warning this was going to happen so those planning to redeem miles on certain routes are now slapped with higher rates. For example, awards within Asia used to cost one flat fee of 20,000 miles in economy. Now, it varies based on distance—so for example, it’s 15 ,000 miles for a Tokyo to Seoul roundtrip, but Tokyo to Bangkok roundtrip clocks in at 45,000 miles. To be fair, the old redemption rates were fairly generous for longer trips, and this change puts the mileage cost more in line with the actual cost.

JAPAN-BOUND TRAVELERS RACK UP Traveling to the land of the rising sun soon? (SEE ABOVE WARNING) Score triple miles for purchased Business Elite tickets and double miles for economy class tickets of all fares between now and May 31. Simply register and fly on Delta’s new nonstop flights between Detroit or Los Angeles and Tokyo Haneda Airport. Register here.  (Tip: Be sure to check arrival and departure times at Haneda. Flights are restricted to wee hours of the morning, and getting to/from the city by train might prove difficult.) Also, Delta’s swapped out 747’s for 777’s on Haneda routes…I guess the business they’d hoped for has not materialized. Have YOU flown to Haneda? LET US KNOW! Leave a comment below…

REDEMPTION DEALS? Delta SkyMiles may be tough to redeem for some, but for the savvy, it’s not so bad. The trick is knowing which routes are more likely to have award seats. Clearly, busier or higher revenue routes like ATL-London Heathrow are going to be slim pickings. But consider some less-traveled routes and you might luck out.  For example, some better-than-normal redemption opportunities can include routing yourself via new Raleigh-Durham/San Antonio flights to get to Cancun; JFK-Cairo (once the route resumes May 1– despite predictions, tourism is already picking back up); and JFK-London Heathrow might be opening up a little now that a third flight has been added to the schedule.

NEWER, LARGER REGIONAL JETS ON THE WAY! We’re all glad to see more of those those 50-seater CRJ-200s get axed from the Delta schedule, but that doesn’t mean that bigger jets are going to replace them. For now, the older Northwest DC-9 aircraft are helping to fill a gap in some markets, but these old planes will be retired within a year. Eventually, Delta will add newer, larger regional jets to the mix, many of which offer first class cabins and in-flight Wi-Fi. In addition, Delta is getting some new Embraer-170 aircraft from Virgin Blue of Australia. These jets will soon appear on the Delta Connection network under the Compass Airlines brand and they’ll offer coach seats only at first but will eventually be updated with first class seats.

BONUS MILES FOR FREE (ALMOST). Purchasing miles to top off your SkyMiles account? Score an extra 50 percent bonus between now and March 31. Simply purchase new miles or gift/share miles with a friend or family member’s account to earn the bonus miles. Register here first. This is the ideal way to reach that next award redemption level quickly.

(Photo: Andrew Currie)

MORE SKY CLUB ACCESS OVERSEAS. Delta’s Sky Club membership comes with access to a few partner lounges overseas in addition to Delta’s own branded clubs. Visit Delta’s list of lounge locations and select the Delta Sky Club member drop down to see the complete list (read the rules carefully as only certain lounges participate).  The list includes one of Air France’s lounges in Paris or Johannesburg, one of KLM’s lounges in Amsterdam, and the Air France lounge in Zurich. Note that certain SkyTeam lounge locations like London Heathrow do not participate in the Sky Club member access program. Important: Many lounge agents overseas are unfamiliar with this unique Sky Club agreement so be sure to have a printout of the list and rules handy. This list should not be confused with the more substantial list of lounges accessible to Business Class and SkyTeam Elite Plus members, however.

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