BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
United Airlines confirmed to the Journal that it will reduce flights between Guam and Japan beginning Oct. 30.
In a response to the Journal, the airline’s corporate communications said, “Effective Oct. 30, United will adjust the capacity between Guam and Japan in response to the sharp decline in traffic.
“We are contacting our customers with reservations of affected flights to offer them alternate flight options to their destinations or provide refunds.”
Specifically, the airline said, “Effective Jan. 15, 2018, United will discontinue service between Guam and Sapporo, Japan. After careful analysis, we have determined that this route is no longer economically sustainable. We are contacting our customers with reservations for travel beyond Jan. 16, 2018, to offer them alternate flight options or provide refunds.”
Other routes will be affected also, the airline confirmed.
“We will make some ad hoc cancellations of flights between Guam and Japan (Sendai, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka) from Oct. 30 until the end of March in response to the current level of weak traffic demand,” United said.
Although United has not confirmed the exact number of cancellations from Japan, Japanese travel news website Travel Vision conducted research among Japanese travel agencies and reported that the airline plans on 141 flight cancellations starting Oct. 30 to include 27 flights from New Chitose-Sapporo; 12 from Sendai; 23 from Chubu; 70 from Kansai; and 9 from Fukuoka. Although there are numerous cancellations from Chubu and Kansai, United will fly at least one flight per day, it said.
Travel Vision also reported on Oct. 6 that the airline commented that the cancellations were temporary, and if there are large group reservations or otherwise significant increase in demand, some of the cancellations may not occur. Flights for the second half of next year are not yet scheduled and will depend on observed trends in demand before then.
“They’re just responding to decrease in business. Instead of flying the plane with a lower capacity, they can move customers to other flights. [For example,] Osaka and Nagoya have two flights a day [to Guam] so they can just move the passengers to an earlier flight,” Jon Nathan P. Denight, president and CEO of the Guam Visitors Bureau, told the Journal. “It affects [visitor arrivals] somewhat because there are fewer flights, but the damage has been done already.”
Initial GVB research in early September confirmed there were 7,426 cancellations from individuals associated with package tours, school groups and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions group. A majority of the cancellations came from Japan school groups that had planned to travel to Guam in the fall.
“I’m sure the number has increased since then,” Denight said. “The September to November period is not a leisure travel time for the Japanese, so we’d focused on group travel in the past. The groups are always risk-adverse.”
The more permanent cancellation of the twice-weekly flights from Sapporo is a different story, he said.
“It’s a very seasonal flight and normally we get a lot of visitors during the winter,” Denight said.
However, as Sapporo is an inbound destination with many travelers visiting during the winter for skiing and winter travel, Denight said it may be difficult for residents to travel outside during the busy months, which may have led to the decline in travel to Guam and elsewhere.
“We’re very closely communicating with United and we had a meeting with their top management last month. They’re not reducing any of their employees; they’re very committed to Guam,” Denight said.
Some flights on the Tokyo route will see reduced seat allocations.
“We will operate B737s instead of B777s for some selected flights between Guam and Tokyo/Narita in response to the current level of traffic demand for the month of October through December,” United said.
As the Journal reported, cuts will also include cancellation of the four weekly morning flights to Manila from Jan. 7, though the daily evening flight will continue, according to United. “We are contacting customers with reservations on the affected flights to offer them alternate flight options,” United said.
As earlier reported, routes in Micronesia will also see reductions. United told the Journal, “Effective Jan. 7, United will suspend service between Palau … and Yap …; we will continue with existing service between Guam and Yap and Guam and Palau.”
One route will see additions.
“United will increase its popular Island Hopper service from three to four-times weekly. Beginning Jan. 21, 2018, United will offer Island Hopper service between Guam and Honolulu via Chuuk, Pohnpei and Majuro. United currently operates the Hopper service three times a week to Guam and Honolulu via Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae (twice weekly), Kwajalein and Majuro,” the airline said.
The airline did not respond to a question as to whether the changes to its schedules would affect the number of pilots and flight attendants.
According to Journal files, in October 2016 United had 772 employees in Guam and 910 throughout the Micronesia region.
United emphasized its support of Guam.
“Guam remains an important hub for United, and we continuously monitor the demand for travel throughout the region as we do for all routes globally. As Guam’s hometown airline, we remain committed to the market and our employees in the region. The United team will continue to work with local leaders, Guam Visitors Bureau and stakeholders to do its part in supporting the local economy,” the airline said. — Lara Ozaki contributed to this story. Versions of this story were sent to subscribers as News Flashes on Oct. 7 and Oct. 9. mbj