With its new nonstop flights between Tokyo and Houston, Japan's All Nippon Airways now serves 10 cities in North America, and the CEO says he is looking for more destinations in the U.S. heartland.
All Nippon, or ANA for short, was drawn to Houston by the large number of connecting flights there to Latin America on partner United Airlines. The airline hopes travelers in the central U.S. will see Tokyo as a jumping-off spot to other points in Asia. ANA is optimistic enough in the demand that it began service last week with 250-seat Boeing 777 jets instead of the smaller Boeing 787.
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Through an interpreter, CEO Osamu Shinobe discussed his airline's future plans for the U.S. and other topics in interview with The Associated Press. Following are the highlights, which have been condensed for space and clarity.
Q. How are bookings for Toyko-Houston flights?
A: The initial flight was fully booked and for June and July bookings are around 70 percent and over.
Q. Why did you decide to fly to Houston?
A: There were two attractive reasons. One is that this is one of the greatest hubs of United (ANA and United are partners in the Star Alliance, one of three global teams of airlines). And Houston being in the south of the USA, we thought this can be a good portal for our passengers to Central and Latin American countries. Also there are many Japanese companies operating near the Houston area.
Q. Will you fly to more U.S. cities? Denver, for example, is also a hub for United.
A: (With the Boeing 787) we can fly routes for which the 777 is a bit too large, such as Seattle and San Jose. We are now looking at the wide spots of the United States — that is the central region of the United States. We don't have any concrete plans for Denver yet ... (United) is already flying from Denver to Tokyo, and also if you look at the Japanese community including the Japanese business community in Denver, that is much smaller than that of Houston.
Q. How is travel demand in Japan?
A: The Japanese government is relaxing visa requirements for (visitors from) Asian countries, and therefore we see a surge in inbound (passengers) from Asian countries to Japan. And because of the economic situation of the West, we see a good strength over the Pacific as well.
Q. Is the weaker yen helping boost travel to Japan?
A: For Asian people, I think visa relaxation plays an important role. Other than Asian countries — for example, the United States or other passengers — I think a weaker yen plays an important role because it used to be 80 yen to the dollar; it's now 155 yen to the dollar. So when we speak to our travelers they say they feel hotels are cheaper.