San Diego will get a bigger share of the burgeoning growth in California travel by Asian consumers, when Japan Airlines begins direct nonstop service between Tokyo and Lindbergh Field in December.
The Tokyo-based carrier announced that it will launch new nonstop service from Narita International Airport to San Diego International Airport, the first-ever nonstop flights between San Diego and Asia.
There will be four flights weekly from December through February, with daily service set to begin in March 2013. Working through an alliance with American Airlines, the Japanese carrier plans to deploy the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, fitted with executive and economy class cabins and a total of approximately 200 seats.
Local tourism and airport officials have not released formal projections on the new flights’ economic impact. But the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, also known as ConVis, notes that the region gets about 74,000 annual visitors from Japan, who spend an average $4,000 during stays that last around eight days.
“It’s a very high-value traveler,” says Kerri Kapich, senior vice president of marketing with ConVis. “This is good news for San Diego and for California.”
Kapich said the new routes will also likely spur more local travel by consumers in other Asian nations including South Korea, although it’s not clear what impact it might have on the Chinese market.
California tourism officials in the past two years have been working with attraction operators, including SeaWorld San Diego and San Diego Zoo, to boost travel by Chinese consumers, who now spend more than $1 billion annually in the state.
Approximately 400,000 Chinese travelers visited the state in 2010, spending on average $2,600, according to Visit California. ConVis notes that the state’s Japanese visitor influx is even larger, at around 600,000 annually.
“San Diego has the largest unserved U.S. passenger market to Asia, and thanks to Japan Airlines, these passengers are now linked nonstop to Asia,” said Thella F. Bowens, president and CEO of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, in a statement.
Yoshihiko Kozu, a vice president and Southwestern U.S. regional manager with Japan Airlines, said the carrier’s alliance with American Airlines will allow business and leisure travelers from Asia to more easily visit San Diego. Currently, most Southern California visitors from Asia arrive through airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and JAL says the new direct flights will cut many travelers’ transit time by more than two hours.
The carriers will have a code-sharing system, easing the booking process and allowing American Airlines customers to accumulate frequent-flyer miles and access other benefits when taking the Japan Airlines flights. The arrangement is similar to the one made between American and British Airways, which last year restarted direct flights between London and San Diego.
“Now residents of San Diego and the surrounding communities will have the fastest route to Tokyo Narita, where they can also connect easily to our network of flights to major business centers and tourist destinations in Asia,” Kozu said.
A Dreamliner First
San Diego airport officials said the new Asian service is made possible by the advent of the 787 Dreamliner, the first aircraft with the size, airfield performance and range to make the nonstop oceanic flight viable. The San Diego-Tokyo route is the first announced scheduled Dreamliner service in Southern California.
Local flights between December 2012 and February 2013 will run on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Flights will go daily in March 2013, with the start of the peak local spring-summer tourist season.
Flight JL065 will depart San Diego International at noon local time, arriving the next day at 4:55 p.m. at Narita. Flight JL066 will leave Narita at 5:30 p.m. local time, arriving at 10:30 a.m. in San Diego. The start date for sales and reservations had not been announced as of Feb. 15.
Japan Airlines also plans to launch direct service between Tokyo and Boston in April of this year, and flights connecting Narita and Helsinki, Finland in March 2013.
The airline’s main hubs are in suburban Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports.
A statement by the carrier said JAL was recognized in 2011 by data provider Conducive Technology Corp. as having the best on-time arrival performance in the category of major international airlines, following similar designations in 2009 and 2010.