To the disappointment of local tourism stakeholders on the Pacific island of Guam, Delta Airlines announced during the fall of 2017 it would end its daily Tokyo-Narita to Guam flights in January 2018. The route – first opened in the 1980s by then-Northwest Airlines – marked the end of Delta’s presence on the island, leaving United as the only US-based carrier serving the US territory. Along with United, Delta was a main fixture serving the island’s tourism industry even Japanese visitor arrivals consistently declined over the last decade. While local officials have sought to offset the effects of Delta’s presence, United would then make its own route cuts from Guam. The reduction of flights by Delta and United on Guam is just a small part of a much bigger shift in strategy for both carriers in the lucrative, but highly competitive market of Asia.

Of the US Big 3 carriers (United, American Airlines, and Delta), United and Delta has seen their presence within the region reduced while maintaining its trans-Pacific routes. Once with a vast intra-Asia network that included flights to China, Guam, Saipan, Palau, and Thailand, Delta’s Tokyo-Narita hub now only sees Manila and Singapore as the remaining regional destinations. United has also reduced its presence from Tokyo, and dropped flights from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh and Singapore within the last five years.

In the shift from operating its own flights within the region, the Big 3 carriers now rely heavily on regional partners to offer connecting travelers options to get to their destinations. Among the key moves has been seen in Delta’s shift to Korea from Tokyo-Narita as its main regional connecting hub. The much larger move that has been ongoing over the last decade has been in China, where the Big 3 carriers have positioned themselves through partnerships making the world’s most populated country the key driver of growth for the next few years.

It can be said that Guam took the brunt of the moves with several route reductions by United and Delta in 2018. While the main reason cited was the the decreased travel demand from Japan, the overall outlook for the US carriers in the region is still open for interesting moves and frequent adjustments.


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