Direct international flights are growing on the Big Island once again. Soon those traveling between the Big Island and Japan will have two options to choose from as Japan Airlines resumes Kona service.
JAL Terminates KOA Service
In October 2010, Japan Airlines ceased operating its daily Narita-Kona service. At the time, it was the only direct link between the Big Island and Japan. The termination of this route was a result of Japan Air’s bankruptcy reorganization plan. And since then, visitors from Japan wanting to visit the Big Island would have to fly to Honolulu first. From there, visitors would have to transfer to Hawaiian Airlines, and more recently, Island Air, to complete their journey.
Hawaiian Begins KOA-HND Service
However, on December 20, 2016, Hawaiian Airlines began direct service between Kona and Tokyo Haneda. Hawaiian’s service operates three times a week and is in addition to the Airline’s existing services between Honolulu and both Tokyo Narita and Haneda. Thus far, the flight seems to be performing well for Hawaiian. The route has also been credited with helping boost Big Island hotel occupancy rates and tourist spending. But there’s room for growth.
JAL Returns to KOA
Last week, Japan Airlines made a few new route announcements. According to the Japan Times, Japan Air hopes to resume daily service to Kona beginning this September. Unlike Hawaiian, though, JAL will operate its Kona route out of Tokyo Narita, which isn’t as desirable an airport as Haneda. However, JAL’s service will be daily in each direction rather than three times weekly like Hawaiian’s.
According to the Nikkei, JAL’s decision to restart this route was driven primarily by ANA’s decision begin A380 service to Honolulu in 2019. JAL currently holds a 30% market share for all airlift between Hawaii and Japan. And while JAL won’t be able to compete on the perceived drop in airfare brought about by the A380, the hope is that diversifying their routes will aid in retaining market share.
Japan Airlines Resumes Kona Service Final Thoughts
JAL’s resumption of service to the Big Island is a good thing. It’ll help to further boost the Big Island’s economy, and make travel between Hawaii Island and Japan more convenient. JAL wanting to diversify its routes to Hawaii is also a smart move for the airline, but with Hawaiian already serving the route to Haneda, re-launching Kona service won’t be a walk in the park for JAL either. And who knows, perhaps JAL could add a direct flight to Maui too? If tourist arrivals from Japan continue to rise, such routes may be possible.
But air travel between Hawaii and Japan will be a market to watch closely in the near future. Today Hawaii has a number of airlines operating flights to Japan, including Japan Airlines, ANA, Hawaiian Airlines, China Airlines, and Korean Airlines. Soon, Air Asia X will join the fold, and Scoot could follow at the end of this year. The market is really heating up, so it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.