Domestic Japan Flights

The Ultimate Guide to Domestic Flights in Japan

The topic of domestic flights in Japan doesn’t come up as often as it might in other countries, in large part because of Japan’s impressive railway network. From the lightning-fast Shinkansen to efficient express and local services throughout the country’s four main islands, Japanese trains make flying null and void for a sizable percentage of Japan travelers.

It’s sometimes necessary to fly in Japan, however, and there are some things you should keep in mind before booking flights within Japan. From minimizing airfare in Japan, to knowing which routes are the most-flown and most-popular, this guide will cover everything you need to know about domestic flights in Japan.

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Is it Necessary to Take Domestic Flights in Japan?

Domestic air travel in Japan might seem superfluous once you order your JR pass—you can ride a train from Tokyo to Osaka in as little as 2 hours, 20 minutes. As you starting plotting out your journey, however, you might notice that some holes exist in Japan’s nearly-perfect rail network. It takes a long time to travel by train to Hokkaido, for example, especially if you begin your journey in Tokyo, or even further south.

Other reasons exists for flying internally, whether you book ANA domestic flights in Japan or choose a low-cost carrier. You simply can’t travel any other way to the archipelago of Okinawa, or to many other island destinations that are not easily reachable by ferry—a domestic flight in Japan is necessary.

Popular Domestic Routes in Japan

Hokkaido (with the exception of Hakodate) is poorly connected to the rest of Japan by train, which is part of what explains Japan domestic flights Tokyo Sapporo (and the like) are so popular. By some measures, in fact, the Haneda-New Chitose route is the busiest air route in the world, with frequent departures on huge jets all year round.

Other Tokyo domestic flights that are popular include the aforementioned routes to Okinawa, and to “in city” Osaka and Nagoya airports—Itami and Komaki, respectively. These last two might seem surprising until you realize that train ticket prices are very expensive for ordinary Japanese people, who can’t get JR passes, and sometimes make flying more affordable by comparison.

Low Cost vs. Full Service on Japan Domestic Flights

Japan’s low-cost carrier market is one of the least robust in the world, and though I won’t go into the reasons for that in this article, I will explain some of its consequences. Among the least pleasant? That they tend to operate out of shoddy terminals (in Okinawa, for example, Peach and Vanilla Air, which are primarily Japan domestic airlines, actually use an old cargo bay), which makes the airport about as uncomfortable as the plane itself.

On the other hand, while “full service” airlines like ANA and JAL offer more comfort for your money (including free seat assignments and complimentary beverages—more on that in a minute), the in-air experience isn’t altogether different. If you can deal with some of the annoyances that come along with flying low-cost in Japan, it can save you a lot of money.

Japan Domestic Flights: Airport and Ground Service

One fact that surprises many travelers the first time they take a Japan domestic flight is the minimum Japan domestic flights check in time. It’s just 30 minutes before departure, even if you have to check luggage. Boarding, meanwhile, begins promptly at the 15-minutes-to-takeoff mark. This wouldn’t fly in any other country in the world, but the Japanese are efficient enough to pull it off.

Since the longest Japanese domestic flights are around two hours, in-flight service isn’t elaborate. It often consists only of beverages, at least in economy class, which is typically the only one offered on domestic flights. JAL and ANA both offer a quasi-business class product (JAL even has domestic “first”), but even here your experience won’t be anywhere close to what Japanese airlines (at least, full service ones) offer internationally or regionally.

How to Find Cheap Domestic Flights Within Japan

Searching domestic flights in Japan for foreigners can be difficult for a number of reasons, among them strangely designed websites of major Japanese carriers. Additionally, since a surprising number of Japanese people still use travel agents, it’s possible that the rates you see displayed on carriers’ official websites might be much higher than what you’d expect to pay for Japan internal flights.

A secret way to score cheap Japan domestic flights if you’re a foreigner traveler is through “air pass” programs, such as those offering by oneworld and Star Alliance. These allow you to book domestic Japan flights at fixed prices per segment, although depending on the prices you find booking a Japan domestic flight à la carte, this might unnecessarily complicate your travels.

The Bottom Line

Even if you think you won’t need to take internal flights in Japan, it’s important to double-check your itinerary and make sure this is the best decision. Whether to overcome deficiencies in Japan’s train network, or simply to avoid paying extra for a longer-duration JR pass, taking Japan domestic flights can be advantageous, financially and strategically speaking. Make sure to reach out if you need help booking domestic flights Japan, or have questions you need answered.