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Delta is threatening to cancel Minneapolis-Tokyo Narita service, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The piece includes ominous statements from Delta that Minnesota political groups should mobilize against US-Japan agreements that would further open up Tokyo Haneda in a way Delta sees counter to its interest, with the implication that without doing Delta’s political bidding, the flagship route will be lost:
If the expansion of Tokyo’s Haneda airport goes through, Delta would likely lose many Tokyo passengers to other carriers, making Narita unprofitable for the Atlanta-based airline, [Delta spokesman] Hirst said [at a meeting of the Metropolitan Airports Commission]. “It’s not just parochial for Delta,” he said. “It [affects] every point on the map that comes into and out of Narita.”
He urged the commission to apply swift and aggressive pressure to the Minnesota congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Transportation before the two governments meet again Feb. 9.
Northwest Orient’s MSP-NRT was the US’s first commercial service to Japan. I grew up in Minnesota and in my student and early work years in China, I came to adore that route. I knew my economy seats on the 747-400, I knew my spot at the Northwest World Club in Narita, I could parrot back the the Japanese PA announcements in the airport, “North-a-west-a koku…”
When Delta consumed Northwest, the historic roots in Asia were left to wither. The NWA brand was strong through the region, particularly in Japan. Delta briefly showed interest in a failed attempt to woo then-bankrupt JAL to SkyTeam, then retreated from the region again with focus on Europe and Latin America.
The Delta Asia hub at NRT has been dwindling, with fewer flights and ever more expensive pricing. In my business trips from New York to China the past three years I only once got coveted spots on JFK-NRT or MSP-NRT because Delta was pricing them dramatically higher than options through Detroit, and later, Seattle. Yeah, I really want to fly a on 737 JFK-SEA to pick up an Asia flight.
I spoke with Delta representatives last year who were surprised that connecting in Seattle was not appealing to me. First the planes, which then only one JFK-SEA, and pretty much nothing else domestically to Seattle, was on a lie-flat business class. Then having two medium-longish flights rather than one long, one short. Third, Narita is a great place to be stranded if it comes to that. Delightful town and temple.
Practically, getting over to Asia in a big swoop and then having many more options in case of irregular options is important for my business commitments. On the return, I always try to avoid US port of first entry hassle for a connection. Delta’s view is the opposite.
The 747-400, Delta’s best business class seat, has also been accelerated into retirement.
Delta’s attempt to revive Japan’s Skymark has been a no-go, it cannot get along with arguably the best SkyTeam Airline, Korean Air, and so now it turns to China Eastern and Shanghai as a potential Asia hub.
No airport in Mainland China can currently function well as an international hub. China’s airports are among the most delayed in the world due to traffic, weather, and political and military meddling. Though improving, none handle irregular operations well, even for Chinese speakers. You wait and wait and only get an update when a passenger riot starts. My last flight out of there was Shanghai-Saigon, delayed 5 hours till 2 am, unable to get any updates even from the China Eastern lounge, other than “no update, wait.”
Delta’s arrogance to everyone it deals with is the most frustrating part. Sure it is riding high, but with low fuel prices even United had a profit and India’s SpiceJet came back from the brink.
I am still a Delta Diamond with 206,469 rollover MQMs, though have not flown then in half a year. They are making money hand over first in a model that both as a passenger and frequent flyer program member is increasingly against my interests.
Most of all, I hate Delta’s attitude, dishonesty and deception. Whether shaking down airport officials in Minnesota or deliberately trying to make it impossible for its customers to be well informed. For a traveler, airline affinity is a personal, emotional relationship. Many of the changes Delta has made to SkyMiles, for instance go way beyond any business imperative and seem intended to see how much they can hurt their customers and still get away with it.
I am voting with my dollars and butt as best I can. It is sad to see even these last bits of airline heritage slip away. Hit me at home and it gets personal!
In a not unrelated note, I am glad to see resumption of AA’s MSP-LGA service, and the climb down from absurd airfares on that route.