Japan Airlines flight, departing Osaka-Itami [Photograph by BriYYZ distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License]

Japan Airlines Restarts Non-stop Flights to Seattle for the First Time in 26 Years


In order to strengthen its overseas tourist market, Japanese flagship airline Japan Airlines (JAL) celebrates the first step forward in securing a place in Washington state travel.

On March 31, Japan Airlines held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the opening of a non-stop flight from Seattle to Japan, a route that has not been in operation since 1992. This will be the third of its kind between Seattle-Tacoma and Narita airports—the other two belonging to Delta Airlines and Japanese rival All Nippon Airways (ANA).

The goal of the new route is to provide more direct connections between JAL’s largest tourist destinations and Japan, expanding tourism opportunities with key US cities. According to an official statement from JAL announcing the route, “the top 20 US cities with the highest travel demand from Japan account for 84% of the market”, and the airline hopes to open direct flights to all of them. Seattle is the fifth most popular city on that list. From the American side, Japan accounted for over $16.5 billion in tourism spending in the United States, and nearly half a billion in Washington State alone in 2016.

This new route is one of many soon to be rolled out by the airline, which is adding air-travel to over 40 new cities around the world through codeshares with Alaska Airlines. Code sharing is a process in which one airline sells seats for flights operated by another. Agreements of this nature benefit both airlines: the new airline gains access to new markets around the world for its customers, and the original sees a reduction in their operating costs. In the United States, JAL’s major codeshare arrangements are with American and Alaska Airlines.

The Seattle-Narita flight is the sixth West Coast route that JAL operates between Japan and North America, following Vancouver, San Francisco, San Diego, and two different routes for Los Angeles.

Madeline Wiltse is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year graduate student studying American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University, and has a Bachelor's in International Studies with a region focus on Japan from the University of Washington.