Exciting news for Denver! United Airlines announced on May 22nd that it will begin daily nonstop service from Denver International Airport (DIA) to Narita International Airport (NRT) near Tokyo, Japan beginning in March 2013. This will be the first-ever nonstop flight from Denver to Asia and represents a tremendous success for the City of Denver’s and State of Colorado’s economic development efforts over the past decade. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called United’s announcement “an economic-development victory of epic proportions” for the metro area.
The work of many years of Ascent to Asia
While many celebrate the latest news, this service was the result of many years of collaborative work. A major cooperative, “Ascent to Asia”, began in 2008 that was designed to unite interested parties advocating for nonstop service between Denver and Tokyo. As Mayor Michael Hancock was formerly an exchange student in Japan, he was also passionate about securing these flights. He considered air service development one of his top priorities and visited Japan several times to build upon the “Ascent to Asia” campaign.
In collaboration with the mayor, many stakeholders were involved in these efforts. “As part of Ascent to Asia, this has truly been a multi-year partnership with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Visit Denver, State of Colorado, the City and County of Denver and DIA – amongst others as well,” said Eric Hiraga, Deputy Manager Airport Chief of Staff at Denver International Airport.
A boost for the economy
Dick Clark, a senior partner at the law firm Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons LLP said, “I do not believe the average Coloradan understands how much benefit our state receives from nonstop international flights, especially a nonstop flight to Japan where we already share a rich cultural and prosperous business history.”
According to Laura Jackson, an economic impact study showed that the nonstop service will generate over 1500 new jobs across the state. “That’s primarily due to more inbound people coming to Denver and Colorado as a result of this flight,” she said. Laura Jackson is the Director of Research at Denver International Airport.
“Opening this next frontier of opportunity with a nonstop flight to Japan will create new jobs, help us recruit new companies, generate more than $130 million in annual economic benefit to Colorado, and elevate Denver as a world-class city on the global stage,” said Mayor Hancock. “For decades, this city has worked to secure this flight and better connect Denver with one of Asia’s most important commercial hubs.”
DIA is the eleventh busiest airport in the world and the fifth busiest airport in the United States. With more than 50 million passengers traveling through the airport each year, DIA is one of the busiest airline hubs in the world’s largest aviation market. The airport is the primary economic engine of the state of Colorado, generating more than $22 billion for the region annually.
DIA currently offers nonstop flights to the United Kingdom, Germany and Iceland. Other international destinations include Mexico, Costa Rica and Canada. Tokyo is the top Asian destination from Denver.
Gateway to Asia
Securing a non-stop flight to Asia, specifically to Narita International Airport, has been one of Denver’s top priorities for many years. Tokyo Narita, as it’s commonly called, is a gateway into Asia and the airport sees the majority of international passenger traffic to and from Japan.
“With United Airlines and All Nippon Airways both members of the Star Alliance network, a flight between Denver and Narita is essentially ‘hub-to-hub’ service,” said Kim Day, Manager of Aviation for Denver International Airport.
Hiraga emphasized that this really is a gateway for all of Asia. People will no longer have to stop in San Francisco, Seattle, or Los Angeles. He said, “It will cut down several hours of travel time whether they are going on to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Bangkok, Vietnam, all those places.”
Tokyo is DIA’s largest market in Asia for Denver travelers, according to Jackson. “If we look at travel from Denver to different countries in Asia, we know that passengers flying on this flight will go to all those destinations [listed by Hiraga],” she said.
Why United Airlines
United Airlines is the largest carrier at DIA. The airline carries over 40 percent of DIA’s passengers and serves more than 120 cities from DIA. “We are a major hub for United so they are vested in the community and providing an air service network that benefits the community here,” Jackson said. “In our efforts, over the past four years with Ascent to Asia, we’ve focused on Star Alliance, which United is a part of.”
Jackson shared that staff at DIA also met several times with All Nippon Airways (ANA), United’s partner in Japan. In 2010, the United States and Japan signed an open skies agreement which helped the efforts because United and ANA were then allowed to enter into a joint venture agreement. “What that means is that they are partners now on all of the flights that they operate over the Pacific. So flights between Japan and the U.S. on United and ANA, they share revenues on those flights,” she said.
This joint business agreement along with the Ascent to Asia campaign, the open skies agreement, and the overall timing of all the efforts led to United Airlines announcing the service.
What to expect
United will operate the flight daily using the new Boeing 787 aircraft. The 5,788-mile nonstop journey will be launched with a ticket price as low as $980. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner will have 219 seats—36 in business and 183 in economy.
Flights are scheduled to begin on March 31st and can be booked now. Daily flights are scheduled to leave Denver at 11:55 a.m. and arrive in Tokyo at 3 p.m. the next day, with a flight time of 12 hours and 5 minutes. The return trip will depart Tokyo at 4:40 p.m. and arrive in Denver at 12:30 p.m. the same day, with flying time of 10 hours and 50 minutes.
Reactions to the announcement
These types of projects, when trying to recruit an international carrier, are long-term efforts that take many years of work. Jackson said, “When we get new flights like this, it stimulates travel so people who did not travel before to Denver from Japan or China, all of a sudden a nonstop flight makes it easy for them and they are going to go somewhere they never thought of going before.”
“So I’m thrilled to be a part of something that is so beneficial to the entire state of Colorado and the economy of Colorado.”
The Consulate-General of Japan in Denver’s office was also excited about the furthered opportunities presented by the new service. The key mission of the Consulate is to promote good relations between Japan and the area it represents. Locally, the Consulate works with the City of Denver and other community organizations, as well as the State of Colorado, in a variety of areas to promote cultural as well as economic relations. Consul General Ono said, “I think everyone was surprised by the sudden announcement by United, but it is very good news for Denver and Tokyo.
“There are many potential benefits, including opportunities for increases in economic and cultural relations,” he said. “With such a direct link between Denver and Tokyo, it offers these opportunities not only between the two cities themselves, but also between the Rocky Mountain region in general and onward to greater Asia as well.
Why does this benefit travelers
“Having direct access to Narita, not only brings Japan closer, it opens up a myriad of travel destinations throughout Asia. This is an exciting time and I hope Coloradans will take this new flight as an invitation to explore the many awe-inspiring sights of Asia,” said Tara Bardeen, who has visited Japan four times since 2004.
For Rie Siever, a teacher at Denver Montclair International School, the benefits of these flights are not only for herself but her family. While she lives in Denver, her relatives including her parents, brothers and sister live in Japan. She shares that a direct flight will bring added convenience to non-English speakers. She said, “For example, west coast airports have some Japanese-speaking agents, but not everywhere, and especially at domestic airline counters, they are mostly English speakers. Many times, I paid a transit company to help transfer my parents and my client’s families to travel to Denver.”
In addition to the convenience given to non-English speakers as well as the reduced travel time, another benefit of the direct flights is that they will reduce stress. The chances of something going wrong and/or for passengers to miss connecting flights will be decreased. Brett Staebell, a video game designer said, “I nearly missed my connection from Denver to Tokyo once.”
“The Denver to LA flight is almost always very early, and I was dead tired from a late night of packing. I dozed off at my terminal and woke up to find it empty. I frantically found one of the representatives for my airline, explained my case, and by some miracle, was brought on board even though they’d ‘already closed the doors.’
“Ever since then, I find I cannot relax until I am actually on the plane to Japan, meaning I get to enjoy a few hours of worry during my layover. Eliminating this layover eliminates that stress,” he said.
No more layovers
Last year, University of Denver student Craig Hirokawa, visited Japan as a part of a study abroad program in Osaka. He flew into the Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Japan after having layovers in Los Angeles (LAX) and Tokyo (NRT) flying with American Airlines and Japan Airlines. During his trip back, he flew into Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) before coming home to Denver. He said, “I think a direct flight from Denver to Narita would have been nice for me or anybody else in my study abroad program, as it would have cut out the two to three hour layover in either Los Angeles or Seattle. In general, I think having a direct flight would make the travel to Tokyo much more convenient and would reduce some time from the long trip.”
For Helene Kwong, two times she visited Japan, she flew out of Dulles International Airport (IAD) directly to Narita on ANA, and the third time had a layover in San Francisco International Airport (SFO). She said, “This new UA direct route will encourage me to go to Japan again soon, and perhaps bring some friends along.”
“Also, since I have my own company, I will be able to do business with Japan a lot more easily,” she said. Kwong is the founder of TAOpivot, a company that prepares employers and foreign talent to work together.
Improve international business
Clark also sees the added international business opportunities. He has visited Japan many times to meet with clients, work with Japanese legal counsel, and encourage direct foreign investment by Japanese companies in Colorado. His first visit was in the 1980’s and he averages a trip at least once but usually two times per year.
He said, “Our firm and most of the businesses in the Rocky Mountain Region who are engaged in international business or tourism will benefit economically from the non-stop flight.”
“We know of at least three Japanese companies who will now consider Colorado for direct foreign investment because the non-stop enables them to more easily transport products, employees and customers between Japan and Colorado,” he said.
With the mere announcement of the flight, his law firm was contacted by a large Japanese medical device manufacturer to have his firm serve as legal counsel on a variety of legal issues including possible establishment of a research and development facility in Colorado.
“Also, the non-stop flight will give ‘wings’ to Mayor Hancock’s airport city plan at DIA not only because Japanese companies will now explore investment or even site selection in the area at DIA but also because the flight will increase passengers from surrounding states traveling through DIA to take the flight to Tokyo,” he said.
What travelers should know about Tokyo
According to Clark, Tokyo is a huge city compared to Denver but there are many similarities between the people of Tokyo and the people of Denver. “We share a strong work ethic, belief in the importance of families, loyalty to those who are loyal to us, knowledge that we must develop alternative energy, dedication to protection of the environment, and love of the outdoors,” he said.
These similarities may be what attract Denverites to enjoy some sightseeing in Japan. “I love Tokyo because of how much there is to explore around there,” said Kwong. “I lived in different neighborhoods of Tokyo and saw so many different aspects of urban Japanese life. Of course I went to the popular, well-known places, but exploring the lesser-known prefectures was much more valuable.”
Kwong commented on the advanced train systems that give added convenience to maneuver through the city. “One thing that is amusing in Japanese culture and that you’ll never see in America is how people are fine with crowding onto an already-crowded train.”
“I spent many mornings smashed up against my fellow passengers going into the main part of Tokyo; sometimes I fell asleep on another passenger while standing and they didn’t mind. There were guards on the train platforms, who pushed as many people into crowded trains as they could possibly fit,” she said. “There was no sense of personal space on public transit. I miss this aspect of Japanese culture because it seems so efficient in many ways.”
According to Staebell, smoking in Japan is still prominent, and so you will find far more places where people are lighting up. He said, “Unlike Denver, many bars and restaurants allow smoking, so nonsmokers beware; smokers, have fun!”
With his interest in video gaming, Staebell particularly enjoys the arcade scene in Japan. “You can go there almost any time of the day and find people from all walks of life playing. “I found myself on the losing end of a Street Fighter match with a business man and a schoolgirl, both within a ten-minute span.”
“Although Tokyo gives off the image of being an English-friendly city—and it largely is, going there unprepared or without a decent guide can be intimidating.” Staebell’s example was in riding the rail system. While it is excellent, it can be daunting partially due to some untranslated stops. He said, “The average Japanese citizen, be they a Tokyoite or otherwise, speaks shockingly little English. Having a map and a clear idea of where you want to go will go a long way in ensuring a great trip!
Staebell said, “This goes double for food. Many of the best restaurants offer little or no English translation on their menus, so do your homework.”
Of course Japanese food is a highlight. The authenticity and fresh fish is unlike anything available in Denver. “I adore eating shabu shabu, where you and your friends cook your own vegetables and thin slices of perfectly marbled beef in a boiling pot of broth that is kept warm with gas stoves built into the table,” said Bardeen. “The sushi around Tsukiji market is so fresh it tastes like there’s still a fine veil of sea mist coating the shiny surface of each piece. I also recommend popping into a small noodle bowl shop of a delicious, quick and inexpensive meal.” Bardeen is a Chinese teacher and education writer for Scholastic, Denver Art Museum and We Are Teachers.
The staff at Asian Avenue magazine also looks forward to the new opportunities made available by the gateway to Asia—the additional prospects for cultural exchange! Congratulations to all of those involved in making this possible for our city and our state. For more information or to book a flight, visit www.united.com or www.flydenver.com.