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Delta says deal would kill direct flights from MSP to Tokyo

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Delta plane leaving MSP
A Delta Boeing 767-300 launched out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in May.
Courtesy Emmanuel Canaan 2015

The Metropolitan Airports Commission agreed Tuesday to urge federal officials to change a deal that Delta Air Lines says would kill non-stop service from the Twin Cities to Tokyo.

A tentative agreement between the U.S. and Japan would open up Tokyo International Airport in Haneda to more airlines. Delta primarily serves Narita airport, which is a two-hour drive from downtown Tokyo. 

Ben Hirst, Delta special counsel, told the commission the agreement would cut Delta's business to Tokyo and the airline couldn't justify direct service from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"We know we're going to lose a lot of traffic if Haneda opens up," he said. "And there is not a lot of traffic to lose because there are only 3,000 passengers per day each way between the U.S. and Tokyo."

Hirst said of the 250 travelers flying between Tokyo and Minneapolis daily, about 10 percent are flying to or from MSP, the rest are connecting to other airports.

The tentative agreement includes Delta competitors American and United with their Japanese partners. It would add five daytime flights each way to and from Haneda, a 15-minute drive to downtown Tokyo.

The agreement does not give Delta the 13 flights per day to and from Narita the Atlanta-based airline has now. 

"It causes the whole hub, point by point to unravel," said Delta's Hirst.

Commissioners said they would begin talks with officials at the Federal Aviation Administration and other key players to support Delta's position. 

MAC Commissioner Dixie Hoard, a retired Northwest and Delta flight attendant, said long, non-stop flights give flight attendants the chance to earn higher incomes.   

"To lose the flight out of Minneapolis, when it's my opinion, that it's probably one of the most profitable Delta Asia flights in the system, is just absurd," she said.

Negotiations on the tentative agreement continue next month.