United Airlines is ending its service between Tokyo Narita and Seoul Incheon this autumn, eliminating its last remaining intra-Asia flight from its Narita “hub”.
Currently United operates a 737-800 between NRT and ICN on the following schedule:
UA079 / Tokyo – NRT / 1755 – 2045 / Seoul – ICN
UA078 / Seoul – ICN / 1235 – 1455 / Tokyo – NRT
The last flight from Tokyo to Seoul will be on 27 October 2017 while the last flight from Seoul to Tokyo will be on 28 October 2017.
Interestingly, United’s JV partner ANA does not operate the NRT-ICN route, so it not merely a matter of ANA logically taking over a redundant route. ANA does offer frequent service between Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Seoul Gimpo (GMP).
Asiana does offer frequent flights between Narita and Incheon, so there will still be Star Alliance connection options, just no longer on United metal.
How Can United Still Call Tokyo a Hub?
Back in the day, United served the following Asian cities from Tokyo Narita–
- Hong Kong
One by one, those routes have disappeared. The most recent to go was Tokyo – Singapore, which vanished after United began non-stop service between San Francisco and Singapore. The NRT-ICN route was already downsized from a 777-200 to a 737-800.
United will still serve all its hubs from Tokyo Narita plus Honolulu, but that means Tokyo no longer falls under the definition of a traditional hub.
United’s last intra-Asia flight will be between Hong Kong and Singapore, though I have to imagine that route will not last long either.
Is This Route Cancellation Related to United’s 747-400 Retirement?
Perhaps not coincidenctilaly, United is also retiring its 747-400 fleet this fall. The final 747 flight is currently scheduled to occur from Seoul Incheon to San Francisco on 29 October 2017. That is one day after the end of the ICN-NRT service.
United likely hopes it can re-allocate that 737 to a more useful route (the aircraft currently sits overnight in Seoul) but with ICN-NRT downguaging from a 747 to a 777 and United focusing on Haneda growth in Tokyo, United likely believes that it no longer needs the connecting flight between NRT and ICN.
This is still a head-scratcher, though, because United serves Seoul only from its San Francisco hub. Tokyo Narita is served from all hubs. The connection made one-stop United service to Seoul possible from all hubs.
With the open slot, perhaps we will see new service to Seoul from Newark. That would be a reasonable exchange, especially with the capacity downgrade from SFO.
Part of me laments every route cut that United makes, but this one makes sense. I’m not sure how a 737-800 can ever really compete with 747s and 777s on Asiana or Korean Air and Narita is not the hub it once was. Let’s see if United simply pulls out or adds new service from another hub.