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Japan Airlines Low-Cost

Japan Airlines Plans A Low-Cost Offshoot, May Fly Across the Pacific

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Japan Airlines (JAL) announced Monday it would launch a low-cost airline to run flights between its home base and the U.S. and Europe starting in 2020.

We’ve seen huge growth in low-cost airlines between the U.S. and Europe, including traditional airlines who have set up low-cost offshoots.

This could be the first low-cost carrier to fly between the continental U.S. and Asia. The airline released few details about its plans, so it remains unclear exactly where the new airline may fly.

Will the tight seats and no-frills approach that has flourished for Europe work for a 12+ hour flight?


Japan Airlines Low-Cost Plan

Much of this plan to start low-cost service is still in the works. In its announcement, even the name of this low-cost subsidiary was listed simply as “TBA.”

Beyond targeting the U.S., Europe, and Asia, it’s unclear where this airline may fly. It’s worth noting that one low-cost airline already technically flies between southeast Asia and the U.S. AirAsia X, the long-haul brand of Asia’s biggest budget airline, started flights between Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL) last summer.

JAL says its low-cost offshoot will begin flights in the summer of 2020 with two Boeing 787-8s, starting with flights out of its Tokyo-Narita (NRT) hub.

JAL itself has a great reputation among the many airlines that fly across the Pacific Ocean. From the front of the plane to the back, it offers some of the most spacious seating in the skies. Even in economy, the seats on its Boeing 777s that fly between the U.S. and Japan sport 34 inches of legroom.

However, to make a budget airline work, the seats will almost certainly be a tighter squeeze. The seats on JAL’s current 787-8s are more than 18.5 inches wide with 33 inches or more of legroom. It’s probably safe to expect something closer to what you get on Norwegian Air – just over 17.2 inches wide and 31 inches of pitch.


Our Analysis

Competition is always good. Low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air have offered great fares to Europe while also driving down prices on major airlines like Delta, United and more. The low-cost market to Europe is flush: LEVEL, Primera Air, Eurowings, the list goes on. While that’s been a huge benefit for flights to Europe, we’re torn about low-cost carriers flying across the Pacific.

A flight to Japan from even the West Coast generally runs at least 12 hours. That’s hard enough in a roomy economy seat on a full-service airline with meals and drinks included.

Unbundling fares has given consumers a cheaper fare by cramming in more seats and the choice of adding costs like seat selection and meals. For a six- to seven-hour flight to Europe, that’s not bad. Double the length, and it could be horrible.

We’ll wait to see the details of how JAL plans to structure this, including how tight the seats will be. However, in this case, we may simply choose to stick with traditional carriers.


Bottom Line

The devil is in the details, especially when it comes to budget carriers. While we’re fans of low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW, airlines like JAL will have to prove that a budget model works for travelers to cross the Pacific Ocean.


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