Delta Air Lines’ announcement that it is pulling out from Saipan effective May 6, 2018, has put a damper on the islands’ otherwise celebratory tone as far as the tourism industry is concerned. Tourism numbers may be up, but the pullout of the Atlanta-based carrier signals the further downturn in Japanese arrivals to the Commonwealth, already a depressed market since hitting its peak in the mid-’80s.
The pullout does not only affect Saipan but also Palau, as stated in the announcement of Hiroko Okada from the corporate communications department of Delta Air Lines.
“Delta will end flight operations between Narita and Saipan and Palau effective May 6, 2018… due to unsustainable pressure, including low demand in the Micronesia market,” he had said.
Delta’s presence in Palau is fairly new compared to Saipan. The airline started flying to Palau only in December 2010, making the partnership run for almost eight years, while Delta’s partnership with Saipan has been running for 29 years.
The last time an airline pulled out of the CNMI was when Japan Airlines let go of the route back in October 2005.
In an interview with a handful of individuals on the loss of the Atlanta-based carrier from Commonwealth’s skies, many were dismayed.
“This is a heavy issue but it’s really sad. How are people going to travel if they are pulling out completely? Who is going to take us to Guam, Japan, and the other islands? It’s not good and aside from the less travel carrier choices, many people will lose their business and jobs.”
—Steve from Dandan
“It’s a shame that they are pulling out because I’ve been using Delta since they have been here. It is very convenient to travel from Saipan using a direct flight to Japan and then to the States and now we have to find another route to do that. It’s sad but what can we do if it’s a business call?”
—Lorraine Babauta from San Vicente
“It is a big loss to Saipan and the people who patronize Delta. Delta is a big company and now we are losing them. It is our trusted airline whenever we travel to the mainland because of their quality service and convenience. Delta Air Lines is also the airline we trust whenever we fly a family member for check-up or medical needs to Hawaii because we also have family there.”
—Amy Cabrera from Chalan Piao
“It is terrible! We are going to lose our Japanese market and tourists.”
—Sam of Saipan
“It is sad that Delta Air Lines is leaving as it is our trusted airline going to Japan and the States. We actually like going through Japan. Like this winter, my family and I stayed overnight in Japan as we really like to bring the kids there and we use our mileage. My father-in-law travels a lot so he is able to get the miles and we use the miles to get our teachers inbound and outbound here. I like Delta’s service over other airlines and I really wish that they would stay.”
—Emily Wei of Eucon International School, Gualo Rai
“I guess the tourism that we get from Japan will go down. We really cannot do anything about it when it is based on economic reasons. Our government must find a way for the Japanese to come over. Residents who have family ties in Japan will be affected because it will be harder for them. Traveling might be more expensive because there will be more stopovers than a direct flight.”
—Renalyn from Chalan Kanoa
“I am Japanese and this news makes me very sad. The distance between Japan and Saipan has become farther because there is no direct flight anymore. Watashi wa yoi Kankei ga nakanaru koto o osorete iru (I am fearful the our good ties will be gone).”
—Akira Matsuda from Garapan