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JAL adding flights to UK, Thailand to serve more business travelers

Airline aims to focus more on high-margin routes

Making its long-haul flights more profitable is a high priority for JAL.

TOKYO -- Japan Airlines will increase flights to the U.K., Thailand and elsewhere in October or later, with an eye toward attracting more business travelers and raising profitability.

JAL currently flies one round trip daily between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and London. The flights depart and arrive at Tokyo during the day. The new service will arrive and leave Haneda at night and early morning.

Because the flights take 12 hours, many travelers prefer to fly at night on that route. JAL will promote its premium-economy seating with extra legroom, as well as business-class seats that go completely flat to let passengers lie down, to travelers looking for extra comfort.

Despite Brexit, JAL sees strong business demand in the London route. The new service will broaden options for connecting in London with code-share partner British Airways' flights to and from Africa and elsewhere in Europe.

JAL will also double its flights between Narita International Airport just outside Tokyo and Bangkok from the current one round trip per day. The airline currently offers just seven round trips a day between Bangkok and different cities in Japan, including code-share flights, compared with rival ANA Holdings' more than 13, including code-share service with Thai Airways International.

By increasing flights to and from Bangkok, JAL seeks to serve more business travelers such as employees of Japanese parts manufacturers with operations in Thailand, as well as Thais visiting Japan. Business travelers are normally willing to pay higher air fares than people traveling for pleasure, so JAL is trying to boost margins by adding flights on routes frequented by business travelers.

Meanwhile, the Japanese air carrier will suspend its once-a-day service between Narita and Incheon Airport in South Korea as early as March, as intense competition from budget airlines is making it increasingly difficult to generate profit. Once Narita-Incheon service is canceled, JAL will have no flights connecting Japan and the South Korean airport.

JAL filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 and used taxpayer money to fund its turnaround. One of the conditions placed on the airline for receiving public assistance was to refrain from adding new routes, but this restriction expired at the end of March.

The company has since announced plans to launch new services in September between Narita and Melbourne, Australia, and Narita and Kona in Hawaii. At the same time, it plans to end regular flights between Narita and Paris in October. JAL says it will continue to monitor demand and adjust services to raise profitability.

ANA, already strong in serving business travelers, added new services to Brussels, Phnom Penh, Mexico City and other destinations over the past several years. It plans to double its Narita-Los Angeles service from one daily round trip to two in October.


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