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United to Boost Tokyo Capacity as Japan Opens Up

The airline is set to increase passenger numbers to Japan by 13 percent following the country's easing of COVID restrictions

by Fergus Cole

October 10, 2022

Photo courtesy of United Airlines

United Airlines is set to increase its capacity to Tokyo by 13 percent after Japan’s announcement that it will lift significant COVID restrictions.

Under the airline’s plans, the number of flights between its hub in Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and Tokyo will increase to daily from November, up from four per week at current levels. 

Some other U.S.-Japan routes will also be switched over to larger aircraft to accommodate more passengers, including nonstop flights from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

United currently offers daily flights between Newark and Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. But by upgrading to a 777-300ER, the airline will allow almost 100 more daily passengers on that route. Similarly, the 787-9 used on the LAX-NRT route will be upgraded to a 787-10, increasing the capacity by 60 seats.

Japan has largely been closed to tourists since the pandemic began in early 2020, with the vast majority of international visitors banned until June 2022. Since then, tourists have been required to apply for a visa and book via official tour group agencies, while there has also been a daily cap of just 50,000 incoming foreign passengers.

However, these restrictions are set to be removed as of October 11, following the Japanese government’s announcement back in September. At the time, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country was planning to remove border controls ‘to be on par with the U.S.’ after criticism from the Japanese tourism industry that the rules were hindering post-pandemic growth.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, almost 32 million visitors entered Japan in 2019, including 1.72 million U.S. citizens. However, demand for flights to the Asia-Pacific region is still only at around 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

Doreen Burse, United’s Head of Worldwide Sales, hopes that Japan’s reopening will be followed by an increase in passenger demand, as has been the case following similar moves made by the likes of Singapore and Australia.

United is not the only major carrier looking to capitalize on Japan’s lifting of its daily arrival cap. Singapore Airlines, which currently operates a Singapore-Tokyo-Los Angeles route, has announced it will increase capacity to the island nation by the end of October, as have South Korea’s Asiana Airlines (OZ) and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific (CX).

However, although the visa requirements and daily cap on arrivals are being lifted, there will still be some COVID restrictions in Japan that passengers should be aware of before booking flights. This includes the requirement of a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of departure for passengers who aren’t fully vaccinated.