Why is LAX favoring American Airlines over Delta in Tokyo spat?

 LAX wants American Airlines to fly to Tokyo Haneda Airport from Los Angeles. Photo:  Donkey_Tramp /Flickr, via Creative Commons

LAX wants American Airlines to fly to Tokyo Haneda Airport from Los Angeles. Photo: Donkey_Tramp/Flickr, via Creative Commons

In a spat between two of its largest tenants, Los Angeles International Airport has taken the side of American Airlines as it battles Delta Air Lines over landing rights in Tokyo.

At issue is how Delta is using its authority to fly between Seattle and Tokyo's Haneda Airport. The Japanese government places strict limits on how often U.S. airlines can fly to the airport, which is considerably closer to downtown Tokyo than Tokyo Narita Airport. American currently has no rights to fly to Haneda, but it wants to change that.  

Specifically, American wants landing rights Delta now holds. In 2013, Delta received permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fly daily between Seattle and Haneda. But the route has been so unprofitable Delta barely wants to fly it at all. Delta recently slashed its schedule for the winter season, planning to fly the route 17 times during a 182 day period ending in March.

In remarkably nasty legalese before the DOT, American has argued Delta is making a mockery of the process. American says the DOT should revoke the slots from Delta and give them to American. Delta says it fairly won the slots and is following federal guidelines in using them.

If American wins these rights from Delta, it says it would fly between Haneda and Los Angeles. So Gina Marie Lindsey, the airport director, took American's side this week in a letter to the DOT. "[We] enthusiastically requests your Department finding in favor of American's motion," the letter said.

You can argue Lindsey took American's side because she was protecting her city's interests over Seattle. But American and Delta are two of her most important tenants, so I was surprised she chose sides. And Los Angeles already has two daily nonstops to Haneda -- All Nippon Airways and Delta -- so it's not clear the market could support a third entrant.

You might be curious why airlines have trouble making money with Haneda flights. The problem is that the Japanese government requires these flights to arrive and depart during the overnight hours. For many travelers, the flight times are extraordinarily inconvenient.

The hope is that eventually the Japanese government will loosen time-of-day restrictions and these slots will become more valuable.

As for the LAX angle, here's the text of the letter.