BY JULIAN RYALL
Japan Correspondent

TOKYO, Japan — Airlines that have traditionally operated between Japan and the islands of the Pacific say they are ready and willing to get airborne again just as soon as the political decisions are taken to allow people to travel once more. 

Unfortunately, with the number of Covid-19 cases stubbornly

Sam Shinohara

refusing to decline in both Japan and South Korea key markets for Guam’s inbound travel industry — it appears that a resumption of flights is still some way off. 

Skymark announced July 15 the continued suspension of flights to Saipan until late October. That was the day that the Northern Mariana Islands said it would re-open to tourism, but the date came and went.

Skymark’s Tokyo- Saipan route flight is now scheduled to resume Oct. 24.

JAL is uncertain when flights on its Guam route will resume.

“We cannot provide confirmed dates for Guam as strict quarantine measures are still in place,” said Mark Morimoto, a spokesman for Japan Airlines. “Originally, we had planned to launch a second daily flight between Tokyo’s Narita Airport and Guam in July 2020, but that has been postponed because of the current situation. 

“To resume flights, we will need to wait for governments — both in Japan and the foreign country — to provide updates on quarantine measures as we need to make sure that our customers are able to travel with peace of mind and not be quarantined when they arrive at a destination,” he told The Marianas Business Journal.

And while airlines have welcomed plans by Hawaii to permit travelers who have been medically cleared to enter the state without undergoing a quarantine period later in the summer, restrictions are still in place for anyone entering Japan from the US and most other countries, making travel by Japanese tourists to Hawaii impractical. 

It is a similar situation at All Nippon Airways, where spokeswoman Anna Mukai confirmed that international flights are suspended until at least July 3. The airline updated suspensions as of July 16.

“The Japanese government has said that it is working with authorities in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam on the resumption of initial international flights, so these are our priority destinations at the moment,” she said. “There has been nothing said specifically about the Marianas, although Hawaii’s announcement is something that we are also watching.

“But the good news for people who do want to go on vacation is that we will be able to swing back into action with our flights very quickly, just as soon as the authorities confirm that everything is ready,” she said.  

Airlines have implemented new protocols to ensure their passengers and crew remain safe from the coronavirus.

The departure hall of Terminal 2 at Narita Airport in Japan is shown in better times.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

ANA has withdrawn in-flight magazines, newspapers, blankets and pillows for passengers and halted in-flight sales. In an announcement on its domestic flights, passengers are informed that while air conditioners recirculate the air inside the cabin every three minutes, state-of-the-art filters are in place. Passengers are also told they must wear face masks and are being urged to “be careful” when they cough. 

Japan Airlines extended flight suspensions to Guam through July 31.

Neither JAL nor ANA have details on the future frequency of flights to the Mariana Islands, the number of passengers who will be permitted to fly or the price of tickets, although Mukai said there are no signs of a major hike in prices. 

United Airlines is making plans to resume flights, with the airline operating an estimated 85% fewer flights in May and June 2020 in comparison with the same period last year. Although the airline said July 1 it would offer 25,000 flights from August, it has since pulled back from doing that (See update in the July 17 news update).

But United is poised to respond to demand.

“As the islands slowly reopen, United will continue to support its customers and the community by trying to maintain lifeline connections,” said Sam Shinohara, managing director of airport operations for the Asia-Pacific region. 

“While we see that travel in the months ahead and into the late summer might be slow, United looks forward to welcoming our customers back and providing a safe and comfortable travel experience,” he said. 

To ensure the safety of passengers, the airline has introduced United CleanPlus on its aircraft and is working with Clorox, the brand well-known for its disinfectant products, and medical experts at the Cleveland Clinic to guide the new cleaning, safety and social distancing protocols that are being rolled out. 

Some of those new procedures include touchless kiosks in select locations for baggage check-in, sneeze guards and mandatory face coverings for crew and customers. Medical experts from the Cleveland Clinic are also advising on the introduction of new technologies, training and quality assurance programming. 

Aboard aircraft, United began enhancing cabin sanitization in June by electrostatic spraying before every flight, while individually wrapped hand sanitizers are being handed to passengers as they board and permitting customers to take alternative flights when their books flight is operating at more than 70% capacity. 

The company was the first major U.S. airline to request all of its passengers to carry out a health self-assessment during the check-in process. 

However, United has not committed to social distancing through empty middle seats.       

Japan Airlines, which on June 30 announced that it is operating fully 66% of its scheduled flights within Japan, has also implemented a series of heightened safety and hygiene procedures for staff and passengers. Those measures include the requirement that cabin crew wear gloves and masks at all times, that social distancing markers be respected when boarding an aircraft, meals and drinks handed out in packaged trays and, at present, no cancellation fees.

The company said in a statement, however, that future fare levels will be determined by “market conditions.” mbj