Choosing the right airline can offer both physical and financial comfort; it is also undoubtedly a great way to start/support your Japan trip. Japan offers a variety of airlines, and we discuss the ones you should know, as well as airports in Japan and how to book the best deals.
Table of Contents
- Japan's International Airlines
- Japan's Domestic Airlines
- Airports in Japan
- Japanese Airline Booking Tips
Japan’s airlines, along with Japan’s service industry as a whole, has been praised as one of the best. Browse your options as we lay out what you should know about each airline.
Both of the international airlines mentioned below - ANA and JAL - are world class and famous. Of course both offer domestic flights, but they are also the best and most reliable options for international travel, especially if you are taking a long trip and are willing to pay for the spectacular service as it does cost quite a bit to book.
All Nippon Airways
All Nippon Airlines, also known as Zennikku and ANA for short has both domestic and international flights with over 120 destinations around the world, with 84 international routes and 119 domestic routes.
ANA dates back to 1952 as its year of establishment, utilizing helicopters as its way of flying people to their destinations. The airline developed its system for decades and at present, it is renowned as the biggest airline in Japan. And you can be assured of its quality, as ANA has won awards upon awards both domestically and globally, including Skytrax's 5-star rating for the 10th year in a row in 2023. In fact, some of the domestic airlines mentioned below further on in the article are subsidiaries of ANA.
Japan Airlines or abbreviated as and known in Japan as JAL (pronounced Jyaru) started operating in 1952, only offering domestic flight service to passengers at the time. Now this airline has established itself and is now in close competition with the other leading airline in Japan - All Nippon Airways (ANA). JAL has flights to 62 airports domestically, and to around 350 airports around the world. JAL has also earned 5-star status by Skytrax.
The red bird on the tail of the plane, called "Tsurumaru", is the brand mark and is based on the motif or a red-crowned crane which represents Japan.
For domestic flights, there is a class grade between Economy and First Class called Class J. You can opt for it if you'd like more comfortable seats than Economy but also to not pay as much as First Class.
※JAL, “Number of Routes” ※Skytrax, "Japan Airlines"
Domestic airlines have been more cost-efficient in the past few years, and travelers often now prefer it from other transportation methods. Of course the above two airlines - ANA and JAL - offer amazing domestic flight services as well. However, LCCs or Low Cost Carriers, and MCCs or Middle Cost Carriers have become more common. Below are the lists of domestic airlines - which also offer international flights which might be worth looking into if you’re coming from a nearby country but we’ll be focusing on the domestic flights - operating in Japan.
Skymark began in 1996 and has since become a competitive domestic flight operation. It is also known for its punctuality and affordability while also having nicer seats than LCCS, beating out other domestic carriers in recent years. One highlight of Skymark is the complementary Kitkat with unique Skymark packaging. You can also pay 1000 yen extra to get a seat in the first row which has lots of leg room - but it's first come first served!
Based at Kansai International Airport, Peach Aviation has provided low cost flights since 2012 and has 32 domestic routes at the time of publication. It aims to not only be the best low cost carrier in Japan but also across Asia. Everyone knows its planes for their bright fuchsia pink exterior!
※Peach, About Peach
Jetstar Japan is actually one of the joint ventures of Japan Airlines and other companies which began its domestic flight service in 2012. They have a price beat guarantee (with certain conditions applying) which shows they are committed to keeping the costs down for customers.
Star Flyer is an airline based in Kitakyushu Airport that operates flights from the Kyushu region to various destinations. While many planes are based on white, the Star Flyer's planes are painted black and stand out. Star Flyer operates jointly with ANA so it's possible to book air tickets from the ANA website.
Other air shuttles include Spring Airlines Japan, Solaseed Air, Air Do, Fuji Dream Airlines and more, all offering innovative services to attract more customers.
Not only are the airlines in Japan praised for their service, but the airports are world class as well. Let's take a look!
Many visitors to Japan first fly into one of the two airports in Tokyo, Narita International Airport (which is actually located in Chiba Prefecture next to Tokyo) or Haneda Airport (also known as Tokyo International Airport).
Haneda in particular is recognized as receiving the 5-star rating for the 9th year in the row from Skytrax, making it one of the world's best airports. It is also the largest in Japan. In the International Terminal, there is an area called "Edo Komachi" where they have recreated the cityscape of Edo (which is what Tokyo was formerly called) and you can enjoy traditional Japanese cuisine.
Read about the two airports at their individual articles linked above.
If you're flying to Osaka, you also have a choice of two airports, depending on where you're coming from.
Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the main one. It has also earned awards for its excellent customer service. And you can get to the heart of Osaka with an easy train or bus ride!
You can read about Kansai International as well as the other Osaka airport, Itami Airport (officially known as Osaka International Airport), at our article Travel and Fly: Osaka Airports.
Other Airports in Japan
While Tokyo and Osaka may be the cities with some of the busiest airports, the other airports across Japan are kept quite busy as well, especially as domestic flying has become much more convenient and affordable.
We have a round-up article discussing the many airports in Japan here: A Look at Japan’s Local and International Airports.
We cover the busiest local airports in Japan, which may surprise you, as well as the airports that accomodate international flights. One of them, Chubu Centrair International Airport, was designated a 5-star Airport by Skytrax.
※Skytrax, "Chubu Centrair International Airport"
Here are just some general tips when booking your flights.
Heavy discounts for early booking, low-cost carriers, for tourists
Booking early can mean major discounts in overall cost. However, make sure to check whether you can change your flight plans if there’s a chance that your plans could change. Also, waiting until the last minute may mean a flight costs more than a shinkansen ticket in the case of domestic travel, so you might have to choose between cost and time in those cases.
Low-cost carriers have been formulating a plan to extend their coverage in Asia so it may be worth it to check your options instead of deferring immediately to the major airlines.
There are also discount offers exclusive to foreign tourists, so make sure to look into that as well before finalizing your travel plans.
Check the airport and routes into the city
Sometimes there’s several airports in roughly the same region. Make sure to do your research and see which one is more convenient for you once you’re there. For example, Tokyo can be accessed by both Haneda and Narita Airports. While Haneda is much closer to the metropolitan area of Tokyo, Narita may offer more flights from where you are or better times despite being further away. Make sure to weigh your options!
Understand the Check-in System and Security Check Beforehand
We recommend arriving 1 to 1.5 hours before departure. Some LCCs have terminals far from the center of the airport, so in the case, give yourself 2 hours just in case.
Check-in is done at the automatic check-in machine or at the counter. You can even indicate and print out a tag for baggage you intend to check-in. If you do not have checked baggage, you may be eligible to skip the check-in process (available for ANA and JAL) if you do it online beforehand and go straight to security check instead.
It's important to know so you can go through this process smoothly.
- Take off any coats, jackets, blazers and place them on a tray
- Put your baggage on trays. (if it doesn't fit, you can put it directly on the conveyer belt.) If you have a lap top, take it out and place it in a separate tray.
- If you are wearing shoes that cover and/or go higher than your ankles, with thick soles or with many decorations, you will have to take them off and put them on a tray. Slippers are usually provided.
- Check beforehand what is allowed in carry-on baggage. If anything prohibited is found, you will have to leave it or they may allow you to check it in.
Is it better to travel within Japan by plane or Shinkansen?
Whether you should use an airplane or the Shinkansen for domestic travel depends on your destination and time of year. There is a tendency to think that flying by plane is more expensive, but there are cases where you can reduce costs by using an early bird or LCC, so it cannot be said unconditionally.
If you want to arrive at your destination on time, we recommend using the Shinkansen. Planes may take off and land late due to weather. On the other hand, trains in Japan are rarely late.
In general, when traveling from the Kanto region to other regions, many people choose the Shinkansen if their destination is as far as the Kansai region, and the airplane if they are traveling south of the Kansai region.
Japan’s airlines have come a long way to provide secure flights for both domestic and international itineraries in different quadrants of the globe. The positive and satisfied remarks of the various airlines’ services to passengers are countless, causing more people to fly around the world with these leading airlines. Whatever you choose between the above providers, what matters is to enjoy the trip to Japan, both financially and comfort-wise.
First posted: 2021/04/09
Updated on: 2023/01/20