Photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

American Airlines is upset the U.S. government has picked Delta Air Lines for a coveted route to Tokyo's Haneda Airport and is letting everyone know why.

The Dallas-based airline, which wanted the daytime route slot for its hometown hub, is contesting the U.S. Department of Transportation's preliminary decision last month that gave it to Delta for use at its Minneapolis-St.Paul hub.

In February, an aviation agreement between the U.S. and Japan opened up five daytime routes for U.S. carriers into Tokyo's more desirable Haneda Airport, which is more centrally located and convenient for travelers headed to the capital city. The airport previously was only open to U.S. airlines during limited night slots. Minneapolis-St. Paul was selected over Dallas "on balance" for its geographic location.

"Delta’s Minneapolis service proposal provides an ideal opportunity to again address the Department's goal of providing Haneda access from a Northern/Midwestern hub city," the initial DOT order stated, adding that it can serve connecting traffic from other Midwestern and Eastern U.S. cities.

The Dallas Morning News reports that American knows it's unlikely the decision will be overturned. Still, the carrier wants the government to put strict requirements on Delta that, if not met, would result in the termination of its flying rights. If Delta does not use the route to its full potential, the carrier argues, then the federal government should turn the route over to American for use at Dallas-Fort Worth.

But the U.S. government already put conditions on the MSP-HND route in its initial order that it did not place on the other awardees. The DOT went so far in its initial order as to name American's Dallas-Fort Worth route as a backup should Delta "significantly deviate" from its proposed route plan at MSP.

If Delta fails to launch service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Tokyo Haneda within 90 days of the final order, the airline could lose the route. American said in its objection letter filed Monday that it wants more specific conditions, such as the exact size aircraft and flight frequency, remain on the Minneapolis route.

Delta submitted a response Tuesday to American's objection dismissing the claims and reiterating why the Minneapolis route makes sense.

"The connectivity and traffic flow at [MSP] airport will help ensure access to travelers from a wide range of communities," Delta wrote in its rebuttal. 

The objection period ends Aug. 8.

The two carriers have a Tokyo rivalry that escalated in 2014 when American petitioned the government to rescind Delta's flying rights between Seattle and Tokyo's Haneda for "underutilizing" the route. American succeeded in snagging the route from Delta and is now using that failure against the Atlanta-based carrier. American also points to Delta's failed service between its Detroit hub and Haneda, which was a nighttime route.

"In light of Delta’s past conduct, should our tentative decision in favor of Delta at Minneapolis be finalized, we have tentatively decided to condition the award of that authority," the Transportation Department wrote in its initial order.

A large group of Minesota politicians and business leaders aggressively lobbied the DOT on Delta's behalf over fear MSP could otherwise lose its only nonstop flight to Asia, which currently flies into Tokyo's more distant Narita International Airport. 

Read more about the political backstory here.


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