United Airlines expands its network in the Western Pacific with Saipan-Tokyo flights
United Airlines already has some great routes in the Western Pacific region and now there’s another one to add to the list. The Chicago-based airline will fly between Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands and Tokyo Narita for six months starting in September with a one-year extension built into the contract. Flights will take place three times a week from September 1 in a bid to attract more Japanese tourists to the long-time holiday hotspot.
United’s new Saipan flights are more interesting than the Flash
The flights are an initiative (meaning there is funding and assistance involved) of the office of the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, the TRIP (Tourism Recovery Investment Plan) program of the visitors to the Marianas and the Commonwealth Ports Authority. Traditionally, Japan has been a big source of tourists for the Marianas, a part of the world also known as Micronesia.
These Western Pacific flights aren’t United’s flagship international flights, but they’re interesting. In this case, United Airlines uses an unexciting Boeing 737-800 to operate the three-and-a-half-hour flights, and the schedules, at least for the sector to Saipan, are not so passenger-friendly.
Saipan International Airport (SPN). Photo: Commonwealth Ports Authority
Flights three times a week to Tokyo Narita from September
From Thursday, September 1, and then every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, UA825 will close at Tokyo Narita (NRT) at 21:25 and land at Saipan International Airport (SPN) at the unholy hour of 02:00 on the next day. Add immigration, baggage collection, and hotel transfers, and good luck getting to bed by 4:00 a.m.
Flights to Tokyo begin on Friday, September 2 and will operate every Monday, Wednesday and Friday thereafter. UA824 pushes back at 07:00 and arrives in Narita at 09:35 on the same day. United Airlines offers several seat configurations in its fleet of Boeing 737-800s. The airline’s booking engine does not display optional first class seats, sticking simply to business class and economy class seat choices. That brings us to United’s two-class 737-800 with 16 reclining Business Class seats in a 2-2 layout and 150 Economy Class seats (including 42 Economy Plus seats) in a standard 3-3 layout.
“We are thrilled to partner with United Airlines to re-open the Japanese market, which is historically the founding source market for tourism in the Marianas and remains an important market for us today,” said Mariana Visitors Authority chief executive Priscilla Iakopo. “With the recent easing of travel restrictions by the Japanese government, we know that many Japanese people are eager to travel.”
United’s new flights add much-needed connectivity for Saipan
Ms Iakopo adds that the flights will also provide Saipan’s 48,000 residents with much-needed connectivity if they need to travel. The nearby Guam International Airport (GUM) is only a 40-minute flight away, but if you’re looking to fly direct to or from SPN, the choices are limited. South Korea’s Jeju Air flies to and from Seoul (ICN) and Busan Gimhae International Airport (PUS). But for now, that’s about it. Along with Tokyo flights from September, the resumption of non-stop passenger flights between Saipan and Hong Kong (HKG) is also tentatively scheduled in the schedule. However, these flights will depend on Hong Kong lifting the border gates before that date.
Meanwhile, most travelers to or from Saipan use United’s daily shuttle to Guam. From there, a slightly wider range of flight options opens up, including flights already operational to Tokyo Narita, Manila (MNL) and Honolulu (HNL). Further services to North Asia from GUM are planned later this year, but like flights from Saipan, they are largely dependent on the lifting of travel restrictions by various North Asian countries.