United Airlines Expands Its West Pacific Network With Saipan-Tokyo Flights

United Airlines already offers some interesting routes in the Western Pacific region and now there is another to add to the list. The Chicago-based airline will fly between Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands to Tokyo Narita for an initial six months from September with a one -year extension built into the contract. Flights will run three times a week from September 1 in a bid to lure more Japanese tourists down to the longstanding holiday hotspot.

United’s new Saipan flights are more interesting than flash

The flights are an initiative (meaning there is some funding and assistance involved) of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor’s Office, Marianas Visitors Authority Tourism Resumption Investment Plan (TRIP) program, and Commonwealth Ports Authority. Traditionally, Japan is a large source of tourists for the Marianas, a part of the world also known as Micronesia.

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These Western Pacific flights are not United’s swanky flagship international flights, but they are interesting. In this case, United Airlines is using an unexciting Boeing 737-800 to operate the three-and-a-half-hour flights, and the timings, at least for the down sector to Saipan, aren’t that passenger-friendly.

Saipan International Airport (SPN). Photo: Commonwealth Ports Authority

Thrice-weekly flights to Tokyo Narita from September

Starting Thursday, September 1, and subsequently flying every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, UA825 will close its doors at Tokyo Narita (NRT) at 21:25 and land at Saipan International Airport (SPN) at the ungodly hour of 02:00 the following day. Throw in immigration, luggage collection, and hotel transfers, and good luck getting to bed before 04:00.


The Tokyo-bound flights start on Friday, September 2, and will then operate every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. UA824 pushes back at 07:00 and arrives at Narita at 09:35 on the same day. United Airlines has multiple seat configurations The airline’s booking engine isn’t showing first class seats as an option, simply sticking to business class and economy class seating choices. This leads us to United’s two-class 737-800 with 16 recliner style 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 pleased to partner with United Airlines in reopening the Japan market, which is historically the founding source market of tourism in the Marianas and remains an important market for us today,” said Marianas Visitor Authority Managing Director Priscilla Iakopo. “With the recent easing of travel restrictions by the Japan Government, we know many Japanese are eager to travel. “

United’s new flights add some much-needed connectivity for Saipan

Ms Iakopo adds the flights will also provide Saipan’s 48,000 residents with some much-needed connectivity if they need to travel. Nearby Guam International Airport (GUM) is only 40 minutes flying time away, but if you are looking to fly direct in or out of SPN, the choices are limited. South Korea’s Jeju Air offers flights to and from Seoul (ICN) and Busan’s Gimhae International Airport (PUS). But right now, that’s about it. Alongside the Tokyo flights starting in September, the resumption of nonstop passenger flights between Saipan and Hong Kong (HKG) is also tentatively scheduled in the timetables. However, those flights will depend on Hong Kong raising the border gates before then.

Meanwhile, most travelers to or from Saipan use United’s daily shuttle to Guam. From there, a slightly broader range of flight options open up, including already operating flights to Tokyo Narita, Manila (MNL), and Honolulu (HNL). Further services into North Asia from GUM are scheduled later this year, but like the flights from Saipan, they largely depend on various North Asian countries unwinding their travel restrictions.

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