US Carriers Request Summer Slot Waivers For Asia Routes

A United Airlines 787 at Tokyo Haneda.
Credit: Joe Pries

US airlines are requesting an extension of airport slot waivers for certain routes to the Asia-Pacific region because passenger demand in these markets remains “severely depressed.”

In a letter to the US Transportation Department (DOT), trade association Airlines for America (A4A) has asked for the slot relief that has been in place since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 to continue during the northern summer 2023 season.

The request covers routes to China and Tokyo Haneda (HND) in Japan through Oct. 29, which A4A argues is “necessary and justified.” Under normal rules, carriers must operate at least 80% of their scheduled flights from slot-restricted airports or else they risk losing their slots.

“International air travel to China remains severely depressed due to cumbersome, uncertain, and constantly evolving travel requirements and entry barriers,” the letter signed by A4A VP of international affairs Keith Glatz says.

China dropped quarantine requirements for inbound passengers from Jan. 8 following the end of the country's zero-COVID strategy that severely limited entry and exit for almost three years. Beijing also resumed issuing visas to foreign nationals and passports to its own citizens and ended restrictions on international flights.

However, A4A says that testing requirements for passengers from China to the US, as well as the implementation of revised travel and visa requirements, will continue to suppress demand. The trade body, which represents 10 US carriers and Air Canada, adds that ticket sales for the US-China market were 88% down on pre-pandemic levels in December 2022.

Likewise, A4A says that international travel to Japan—and particularly Tokyo Haneda—remains low.

“While Japan is starting to reopen to international travel and, as a result, the US-Tokyo demand environment is improving, the pace of the rebound has been sluggish and forward-looking demand remains choppy,” the letter argues.

A4A said that passenger volumes for the US-Tokyo market during 2022 were 19% of 2019 levels, adding that the gap in international air travel volumes between Tokyo Haneda and other top international destinations is “especially pronounced.”

Overall, A4A says a slot waiver would allow member airlines to “adjust more nimbly to evolving marketplace dynamics and better service their customers.”

The FAA has granted varying degrees of slot-waiver relief to carriers since March 2020. However, the latest extension is scheduled to expire at the end of the winter season on March 26.

Since China lifted international restrictions earlier this month, Chinese carriers have been quicker to plan US-China route resumptions than their US counterparts. Speaking on Jan. 13, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the airline would adopt a cautious approach to rebuilding its presence in China

“We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves in terms of capacity to China,” he said. “We're going to be very mindful to see how demand warrants and how this opens up. But that's the big question mark, I think, in terms of international demand for 2023 that we don't know yet.”

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.