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Japan Airlines resumes flights to Seattle after 26-year gap

JAL targets business demand to fend off budget rival threat

The top of the Space Needle towers over Seattle, Washington. JAL has resumed flights to the U.S. West Coast city, home to offices of Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan Airlines on Sunday restarted daily service to Seattle for the first time since 1992, adding another major U.S. destination as it looks to cater to business travelers.

The airline will offer one flight per day from the Tokyo area's Narita Airport to Seattle, home to offices of Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft and a hub for codeshare partner Alaska Airlines.

"North American routes are very important ones for Japan Airlines," President Yuji Akasaka told reporters at Narita Airport, the capital's primary international airport.

"Alaska Airlines has a network that offers connections to many U.S. destinations," Akasaka added, describing their partnership as "a way for JAL to stand out."

This year is crucial for the Japanese carrier as it emerges in April from bankruptcy protection following a government bailout in 2010. While the company has become profitable, now it must compete on an even playing field with other carriers.

JAL is locked in a fierce rivalry with All Nippon Airways, Japan's largest carrier and part of ANA Holdings, especially on North America- and Europe-bound routes.

ANA gained ground while JAL was under bailout-related limits on expansion. Recent years have seen this fight extend to codeshare partners, with JAL wrestling Hawaiian Airlines away from ANA last year.

JAL on Sunday also unveiled a redesigned first-class lounge, which opens on Monday at the airport.

The lounge, which will offer an authentic sushi bar and ramen, marks another move by JAL to raise its profile in a crowd of low-cost competitors, even as the airline launches a budget brand of its own.

Tokyo-based Zipair will start service next year from Narita to Bangkok and Seoul, JAL said earlier this month. The new unit aimsto make the jump to medium- and long-haul destinations in North America and Europe as early as 2021.

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