Tokyo Haneda - HND

Close-in convenience to the capital – and best-connected to all of Japan

Haneda Airport, located right on Tokyo Bay,was the city’s overcrowded all-purpose airport up to 1978, when Narita was opened and all overseas flights were transferred there, leaving HND to deal only with domestic flights. Improvements to the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) network blunted the need to improve the airport, but by the 1990s there was no doubt that substantial improvements needed to happen. Runways were added and extended, and terminals were reconstructed and expanded over the next decade to bring Haneda up to the world-class standard expected of a key East Asian airport.

With those longer runways, the improved range of modern aircraft, and the extra capacity now available, Haneda was reopened to long-range flights in 2010. But these flights were limited to East Asia and Europe, because the Japanese government did not want to change the competitive situation for Transpacific travel, where United and Northwest had substantial hubs on Japanese home soil at Narita, in competition with locally-owned Japan Air Lines and ANA-All Nippon. If lower-cost carriers from the USA were able to move their hub operations to Haneda, JAL and ANA would be at a disadvantage at their very home airport.

The US government didn’t care for Japan’s foot-dragging, but diplomatic pressure only yielded a handful of late-night arrival and departure slots – no good for making connections anywhere in Japan or Asia, and outside the operating hours of the Tokyo Monorail connection into the city…

Meanwhile, United Airlines formed a joint-venture with ANA, and American invested in and formed a partnership with JAL. In both cases, the pairs of carriers implemented code-share and revenue-sharing arrangements. These agreements locked Delta out of offering connections to the Japanese domestic market, and with them in place, Japan finally allowed daytime arrivals and departures from the USA to Haneda in 2016-2017.

Click to expand image.

In 2018, nonstop service from Haneda to North America is dominated by the Star Alliance (ANA, United, and Air Canada) and the oneworld alliance (JAL and American), with Delta flying only two routes and Hawaiian coming in from the Islands. 14 daily flights are available – still well below what is available from Narita.

JAL and ANA (and their subsidiaries) cover every city of reasonable size with a modern airport in Japan directly from Haneda. JAL, ANA, and their respective partners offer a growing number of flights to cities in Korea, China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia from Haneda, but those are aimed at Japanese business and not necessarily timed for smooth connections to North America. Despite the improvements to the airfield and terminals, there just isn’t enough capacity at HND to replicate the intercontinental connecting hub at Narita.

Image by Banbam1029 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Banbam1029 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0 license

Image by Nagono via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by Nagono via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

Coming off your aircraft from overseas, you’ll follow the ramp down to Level 2 and then take corridors with moving sidewalks along the concourse to the central portion of the terminal building. If you are connecting to another international flight and don’t want to leave the airport, look for the “International Connecting Flights” sign and walk into that area: you’ll go through a security check and then be directed back up to the 3rd floor for the departure gates.

Instead, if you are entering Japan, you’ll go to the immigration hall and its passport-check counters, where you’ll get your book stamped and be thermally scanned just to make sure you aren’t experiencing a massive fever (all of Asia is jumpy about viral diseases since the SARS epidemic). Assuming you’re healthy, you’ll walk though to the baggage claim carrousels, pick up your luggage, and as long as you don’t have anything to declare like tens of thousands of dollars in cash, head straight out into the Arrivals Lobby.

Where you go next depends on your next mode of travel: if you are taking a domestic flight and have your onward tickets, turn left and drop your luggage at the airline counters. Just beyond those counters is a security check: you’ll pass through that and then head downstairs for a shuttle bus which will take you to either Terminal 1 (JAL) or Terminal 2 (ANA).

If you’re taking the train, monorail, or bus, go forward to get your tickets or Suica stored-value card, and then follow the signs to get to your desired transport.

HND-diagram.png

Navigating the Airport

There are three terminals in operation at Haneda: Terminal 1 is for domestic flights by Japan Airlines (JAL) and its subsidiaries. Terminal 2 is for domestic flights by ANA-All Nippon and its subsidiaries. And the International Terminal is as its name implies, for all flights outside of Japan by all airlines, including JAL and ANA.

Each of these terminals is laid out in a similar linear fashion, with check-in counters and security checks on the 3rdfloor, and a long row of gates running the length of the terminal. There are “stubs” of gates on the far ends of each building.

Image by  Keiichi Yasu  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Keiichi Yasu via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Also, each terminal has a substantial pre-security gallery of shops, restaurants, and open-air observation decks on the 3rd floor and up. These are a real treat for visitors and kids especially, compared to the fortress-based setups of modern North American airports.

Image by  Twang_Dunga  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Twang_Dunga via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Japanese airports are some of the most kid-friendly in the world, even for families who are only visiting and not flying out that day. If your children enjoy anime, cartoon characters and mascots, they’ll find plenty to be delighted with. If they enjoy ninja culture and the elements of Japanese history, likewise there will be plenty for them to engage with. And of course if they like airplanes… Haneda has three of the best observation decks to be found anywhere in the world, and they’re all free, and open from early morning until late at night. The ones in Terminals 1 and 2 even have cafes right there, so the children don’t have to miss a moment of the action.

Post-security, in the International Terminal, there are two “kids’ corners” near gates 106 and 146 which are mostly for toddlers to move around in and burn energy without getting underfoot: there are low, padded benches surrounding each zone of Very Clean Floor and a little bit of equipment to climb on. The same facilities can be found in Terminal 1 near gates 9 and 16, and in Terminal 2 by gates 52 and 72.

Restrooms

In the International Terminal, all stalls are extra-wide so you can bring a rolling suitcase in with you or manage your child. The doors fold in on themselves, too, to make it easier to get in and out. Each restroom also has one or two “multipurpose toilets” which include a changing table and even a small shower, which would be good in a pinch for a baby or toddler who need more-than-usual cleaning up.

Adjacent to most of the restroom clusters are also dedicated nursery rooms, which include washstands, hot water, and private booths.

On the domestic side, similar design is at work in the restrooms, with a “multipurpose toilet” available in each.  In Terminal 1, there are five nurseries in the secure zone; in Terminal 2 there are six. There are also nurseries and “multipurpose toilets” throughout the public zones of all three terminals.

International Terminal - Image by  Granpark407  via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

International Terminal - Image by Granpark407 via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Food and Shopping

Much the same as at Narita, you’ll want to budget extra time for your departure at Haneda just for the opportunity to explore and indulge the truly impressive shopping and dining areas pre-security. 

Terminal 1 - Image by  RGB256  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Terminal 1 - Image by RGB256 via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

On the domestic side, the central core of Terminal 1 (JAL) is a seven-story tall shopping center, stretching from the basement level all the way up to the observation deck! Be sure to check out the Tomika model-train shop on the 2ndfloor, the fan store for baseball’s Tokyo Giants on the 3rdfloor, and “Haneda Air Shop” on the 1stfloor for aviation toys and gifts. Likewise, Terminal 2’s central public area from the 3rdfloor up to the 5thfloor observation deck is lined with shops and places to eat.

International Terminal - Image by  MIKI Yoshihito  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

International Terminal - Image by MIKI Yoshihito via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

In the pre-security areas of the International Terminal, the entire 4thfloor is a giant food court called “EDO  KO-JI” (35 different restaurants and fast-food counters, including favorites like Yoshinoya, Katsusen, Tsurutontan, and MOS Burger), and the 5thfloor is about half retail space called “TOKYO POP TOWN”with the other half being the observation deck. The 5thfloor is the place to go for Hello Kitty and other Sanrio goods; they also have a toy store (Hakuhinkan Toy Park) featuring a massive slot-car race track that shoppers can play with!

Image by  Bert Kimura  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by Bert Kimura via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

For both of the domestic terminals, once inside the secure zones, there are a reasonable number of cafes and fast-food counters spread along the concourses, and general travel-goods shops (I’d even go so far as to call them convenience stores) for any last-minute needs.

Inside the International Terminal’s secure zone, however, the shopping choices are concentrated toward the center of the building, and tilt decidedly toward the same luxury goods and expensive designer brands you see in every airport around the world. In the northern concourse (gates 141-148) and the southernmost gates (105-108) there are no options available, not even a bookstore, so be sure to eat and make any final purchases before walking out to your aircraft.  

Image by  toshinori baba  via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Image by toshinori baba via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Connectivity

Haneda is connected to Tokyo’s mass-transit system via two lines, the Tokyo Monorail and the Keikyu Line, but neither plugs directly into the city’s main grid, and so a few connections are necessary to reach the main tourism and hotel centers. You’re always well advised to pick up a Suica stored-value cardright at the airport before setting out, as it’s the easiest and cheapest way to access Tokyo’s transport network.

  • The Keikyu Line has two stops after clearing the airport to reach Shinagawa Station on the Yamanote Loop Line: connect here to reach key western centers on the Loop like Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro.
  • The Tokyo Monorail flows along the waterfront with a great view for two stops after leaving the airport, before reaching Hamamatsucho Station on the Yamanote Loop Line. Connect here for eastern and central stations on the Loop like Shimbashi, Tokyo (downtown), Akihabara, and Ueno.
Image by  DozoDomo  and Tokyo Monorail Co, Ltd. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image by DozoDomo and Tokyo Monorail Co, Ltd. via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Tokyo city government is working to build out a metro connection from downtown to Haneda in time for the 2020 Olympics, and extend operating hours of the trains until well into the night and early morning. The extra connectivity will make Haneda even more appealing to North American visitors.

WiFi is free in the public and secure areas of all three terminals, although in restaurants and bigger shops the free signal may not be available.

Lodging

If you are making an international connection that needs more than a few hours (or overnight), or if you are going to have an early morning departure, you might consider using one of the transit hotels on the airport property. Each terminal has one directly attached to the main building, and the one at the International Terminal actually has a section insidethe secure zone.

And just off the property is the Hotel JAL City Haneda, which is also going to be familiar with travelers from overseas.

 

 

Haneda Tower Complex photo by Alex Len via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

See also...

Our guide to Tokyo's Narita Airport

Fun, Cheap, and Free Family Travel Activities in Tokyo

What Your Kids Should Eat in Tokyo

Impressions - Harajuku Neighborhood

Impressions - Meiji Jingu Shrine

 

Haneda Airport's International Services home page (in English)

Haneda Airport's Domestic Services home page (in English)

Seoul Incheon - ICN

Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Easy for families to use; broad reach to all parts of East Asia.

Seoul’s original international airport, Gimpo, had served the city well up through the 1980s, but after the Olympics in 1988, it became clear that the country’s economic expansion was going to overwhelm that facility. An ambitious development plan was put into action to convert islands about 45 miles from downtown into an offshore mega-airport that would be able to operate 24 hours a day without bothering neighborhoods, handle flights without worrying about pesky mountains, and be able to expand as needed.

In 2001 the new international airport, Incheon, opened, and Gimpo was turned into a domestic-only facility (although some services to places like Tokyo-Haneda Airport and Shanghai-Hongqiao Airport have since been re-introduced.)

Despite the currency shock, SARS crisis, 9/11, recurring antagonism from North Korea, and global recession of the 2000s, the South Korean economy continues to grow strongly, and as a result, Incheon Airport added a remote concourse in 2008, and the eagerly-anticipated second terminal which opened in January 2018, just before that year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Image via  Cameron Henderson  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Cameron Henderson on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

ICN is home to two major international carriers, Korean Air and Asiana. Korean Air is a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance (Delta, Air France / KLM, China Eastern, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, and more) and Asiana belongs to the Star Alliance (United, Lufthansa, ANA, Air China, Air Canada, and more.) 

For traveling families, Incheon is an attractive stopover point, both inbound and outbound. And South Korea itself has become a popular destination, from Seoul's shopping and pop culture, to Busan's seaside charm, to Jeju's semi-tropical laid-back island vibe. High-speed rail now blankets the mainland cities, and English signage and speakers are becoming more common.

Logos are trademarks of their respective airlines. Consult carriers for specific schedules.

Logos are trademarks of their respective airlines. Consult carriers for specific schedules.

Asiana and Korean Air combined offer outstanding access to interior China; most of these cities can be reached with same-day connections from North America. Guiyang, Harbin, and Macao are recent additions to the map. (Click to enlarge.)

Incheon offers better connectivity to more Japanese airports than can be had through Tokyo-Narita, including several low-cost carriers. (Click to enlarge.)

Service Overview

Seoul has positioned itself as the leading connection hub between North America and East Asia with its 24-hour operation and lower costs than Tokyo or Osaka, liberal traffic rights to encourage more airlines to start service, and aggressive expansion by both Korean Air and Asiana (and their respective low-cost subsidiaries). In fact, it is often easier to connect to many Japanese cities through ICN than via Narita.

Currently 14 airports in North America are served nonstop from ICN; the SkyTeam and Star Alliance partners each coordinate schedules for maximum connecting opportunities in Korea as well as in North America. As of Winter 2017-18, Los Angeles enjoys 5 daily departures to Seoul; San Francisco has four, and New York has three; up to 29 nonstops per day overall.

Delta and Korean Air finally signed a joint-venture agreement in 2017, and pending government approvals, will dramatically expand their code-share arrangements. Already the carriers have added a second daily flight to the Incheon-Atlanta route. This may also lead to additional cities in North America getting nonstop service to Korea (watch this space!)

American Airlines (of the oneworld alliance) runs Dallas/Ft.Worth - Seoul nonstops.

Hawaiian Air (not part of an alliance) has a daily nonstop from Honolulu.

Korean Air's low-cost subsidiary Jin Air has started nonstops to Honolulu to cater to the Korean vacation market; it is likely that budget carriers will reach North America soon (although with reduced legroom and baggage allowance); the overall impact should be to bring family-travel fares down.

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

While Incheon Airport now has two separate terminals, the arrival and transfer process is quite similar for each building.

Much like Tokyo-Narita or many European airports, passengers transferring between flights and not leaving the airport do not have to go through Customs. After disembarking from your arriving aircraft, you’ll descend to Level 2.

Arriving at Terminal 1 or the remote concourse, you’ll then go immediately through a security screening. Follow the “transfer” signs back up to Level 3 and the departure gates, or head downstairs to take the shuttle train if you have to change buildings.

Arriving at Terminal 2, if you are connecting to another flight in the same building, you’ll go through security on Level 2 and then head upstairs. If your next flight is on the remote concourse or in Terminal 1, you’ll bypass security and instead head downstairs to the shuttle train. You’ll go through security once you get to the other building.

If you are stopping over or staying in Korea, instead of the security check you’ll pass through a quarantine scan (thermal imaging to see if you our your kids have a fever) and then proceed to passport control. Baggage claim and the declarations counter are on the ground floor; bus stops are just beyond. Across the airport access road is the massive ground transport center including the train station.

Reviews from travelers praise Incheon for speedy Customs and baggage retrieval - 15 to 30 minutes most commonly quoted for the entire process.

Transfer maps via Incheon Int'l Airport Corporation

Transfer maps via Incheon Int'l Airport Corporation

ICN-transfer-T1toT2.png
ICN-transfer-T2toT1.png
ICN-transfer-withinT2.png
Image via  Angelo Juan Ramos  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Angelo Juan Ramos on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Click to enlarge. Image via Google Earth

Navigating the Airport

With the opening of Terminal 2, ICN is nearly doubling its capacity, and opening the door for both the SkyTeam airline alliance (in particular Korean Air, Delta, Air France-KLM) and the Star Alliance (particularly Asiana, United, Air Canada, ANA-All Nippon, and Air China) to both build globe-spanning hub operations.

Now each of these alliances has its own giant terminal:

  • Asiana and many Star Alliance flights now control Terminal 1
  • Korean Air, its Transpacific joint-venture partner Delta, and Air France-KLM now control Terminal 2
  • Oneworld (American, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines) and unaffiliated carriers, plus a few Star and SkyTeam flights, are left to the remote concourse

Within Terminal 1, or within Terminal 2, moving sidewalks and an efficient layout make the average walk between connecting flights only 10-15 minutes.

The remote concourse is located between the terminals and an underground shuttle tram connects them all. It runs every 5 minutes, and takes just 2 minutes to travel between Terminal 1 and the concourse; about 4 minutes from the concourse to Terminal 2.

Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Because of the airport’s efficient layout, automation, and staff training, connection times between international flights of just 45 minutes are possible; in practice, most same-day connections are scheduled for about 75 - 90 minutes.

Gate areas are all configured to handle jumbo jets and feature large seating areas.

Image via  Tzuhsun Hsu  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Tzuhsun Hsu on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

Incheon has clearly been built with traveling families’ needs in mind! The airport boasts an astounding fourteen different large play areas for kids, including slides and places to climb. In Terminal 1 these are located near gates 9, 14, 41, 45 and on either end of the fourth floor. On the remote concourse they can be found near gates 111 and 121. And in Terminal 2 they are close to gates 231, 242, 246, 254, 257, and 268.

Image via  Tzuhsun Hsu  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via Tzuhsun Hsu on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

There are ten dedicated nurseries with private quiet areas and bottle-warming equipment in the secure zone; these are next to the play areas on the remote concourse; on the fourth floor and also near gates 25 and 30 on the third floor of Terminal 1; and near gates 231, 243, 257, and 268 in Terminal 2. (There are also nursing areas in the land-side areas of each terminal.)

Two movie / TV-watching lounges are set up on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1. There are also free large lounge areas set up on Terminal 1’s fourth floor (called the “Rest & Relax Zone”) where you can stretch out in comfy reclining chairs for a nap or airplane-watching.

Terminal 2 incorporates similar areas as well as a large indoor garden, an “observatory” for watching the runways and airplanes, and a “Great Hall” for music and theatrical performances.

Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

“Experience Traditional Korea” is a unique and really fun feature for families; located near gates 24 and 31 in Terminal 1, and also with two locations in Terminal 2, these centers help introduce many of Korea’s art, craft, and entertainment traditions. Stages are set up for performances, and guides in traditional clothing will help you create your own paper or woodcraft artwork to take home!

On the fourth floor of the remote concourse, the Cultural Museum of Korea features curated artworks from many centuries; there are also small exhibition halls of traditional crafts on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1.

Should your connection give you several hours between flights, Incheon Airport runs several different FREE "transit tours" ranging from 1 hour to 5 hours - delivered in English, with transportation provided - visiting the local community, temples, and even downtown Seoul!

If your connection requires an overnight or extended-daytime layover, the Walkerhill Airport Transit Hotel has locations in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Each sits above the main building and is available in 6-hour blocks (even just 4-hour blocks for the Terminal 2 location). Standard double or twin rooms, plus deluxe / suite rooms are available. These hotels are entirely within the secure zone so you do not have to go through any additional scanning to use it.

Restrooms

Numerous toilet facilities are spread throughout the gate and lounge areas; all are equipped for handicapped access and baby-changing. While none are labeled “family restrooms,” the handicapped stalls are easily large enough to manage your child and luggage.

Free shower facilities are also available, if you have time and want to freshen up after a long flight. Two of these facilities are located on either end of the fourth floor in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 (with a third location in the center of Terminal 2’s fourth floor), and one is found on the fourth floor of the remote concourse; they are open 7 am - 9 pm.

Image via  John Martinez Pavliga  on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Image via John Martinez Pavliga on Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Food and Shopping

Shopping choices in the secure area - like many Asian airports - are decidedly tilted toward luxury goods and brand names like Gucci, Burberry, Prada, and Swarovski; there are shops with packaged snacks, magazines, and toys but these are all incorporated in the duty-free stores run by one of the Korean retailers Shilla, Lotte, or KTO. Shops are clustered in the middle portion of the remote concourse and along the terminal-side portion of both Terminals 1 and 2.

Food choices are much more diverse and exciting - and spread evenly across the gate areas. Big food courts are located on the east and west sides of the main building in Terminals 1 and 2, and in the central part of the concourse, plus dozens of stand-alone shops scattered elsewhere.

Most of the leading international fast-food and coffee-shop chains are represented, plus Korea’s leading chains and numerous independent cafes. Italian, French, sushi, and Chinese cuisines are well-represented and of course traditional Korean options.

KTX express train arriving! Courtesy IIAC

KTX express train arriving! Courtesy IIAC

Connectivity

Free WiFi is available throughout both terminals and the remote concourse; in addition, there are two free Internet lounges on the concourse (near gates 111 and 124), four in the main building of Terminal 1 (two on the fourth floor, one near gate 24, and one near gate 30), and two in Terminal 2 (fourth floor, on the east and west sides of the duty-free shopping area).

A commuter rail line connects both Incheon terminals with the domestic airport Gimpo, and continues to downtown Seoul (with stops in several other neighborhoods as well.) You also have the option of the KTX express train running nonstop from Incheon (both terminals) to downtown (Geomam and Seoul Station). These lines connect to a great portion of the Seoul Metro as well as the country’s growing high-speed rail network.

Numerous shuttle buses also connect Incheon to most of the city’s hotels and key transit stations, and even outlying cities. These presently use Terminal 1 as their hub, but there is a free shuttle bus connecting the terminals that runs every 5 minutes.

Lodging

In addition to the Walkerhill Airport Transit Hotel, there are several other family-friendly chain properties nearby with free shuttles from Terminal 1:

Best Western Premier

Grand Hyatt

Paradise City

Nest Hote

Also see:

Our Pinterest page on Seoul

Our Pinterest page on Korea, outside Seoul

Tokyo Narita - NRT

Photo by  Kentaro IEMOTO  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Kentaro IEMOTO via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Japan's front door: efficient, and welcoming; a showcase for culture and commerce.

As your flight crosses the shoreline on approach to NRT, immediately you know something is different. The farms and houses below you are precisely arranged. The streets and highways look as if they were just installed, without potholes or patches. Everything is ... so geometric and, well, clean. The sensation continues as you land and taxi to your gate. The ground workers shuttle about in immaculate jumpsuits. No trash blowing around, no decaying concrete, no abandoned airplanes or rusting vehicles. The carts and trucks are arranged-just-so, in a way that you can intuitively sense is both practiced and engineered for precision.

The staff you encounter in the terminal, from security to shopkeepers, are real people; professional but genuine. Whether you're coming to Japan to visit, or just passing through, it's clear that everyone at Narita understands their role as ambassadors for their entire country.

Logos and trademarks are property of their respective airlines. Click image to expand.

Service overview

Tokyo has been the logical and traditional landing point for flights from North America since the end of WWII; it's the first major city on the Great Circle Route and as such was the fastest way to Asia. Northwest Airlines pioneered the route up through the Yukon and Alaska, then down along the Aleutian Islands, and helped set up the Japanese air system after the war.

While today's efficient aircraft allow carriers to bypass Japan for nonstops to China, Korea, and beyond, there is still plenty of demand for travel to Japan itself - and many connecting opportunities to destinations throughout East and Southeast Asia.

Currently Tokyo-Narita is linked nonstop to 18 airports in Canada and the US 50 states, with up to 47 flights *per day*, and 9 carriers competing for passenger business. NRT is a hub location for the three big airline alliances:

  • Star Alliance, with ANA-All Nippon, United, and Air Canada
  • oneworld, with Japan Airlines and American
  • Skyteam, with Delta, China Airlines, and Korean Air

Hawaiian Air, not linked to an alliance, began service in Summer 2016.

Connections to other cities inside Japan are provided by ANA and Japan Airlines and their subsidiaries; however, there aren't many flights, and not many cities are covered - and those that are offered are usually on small aircraft. Most travelers will make the two-hour overland journey to Tokyo's "in-town" airport, Haneda, for domestic flights, or will opt for the many train services.

Beyond Japan, into East and Southeast Asia, the three airline alliances offer broad connecting options with even more partner carriers:

  • United flies to Guam and Singapore. ANA-All Nippon flies to dozens of destinations throughout the region. Their Star Alliance partners are Asiana to Korea, Air China and Shenzhen Air into the PRC, EVA Air to Taiwan, Thai Airways, and Singapore Airlines. 
  • Japan Airlines also connects dozens of cities; American does not fly onward from Japan. Oneworld partners are Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragonair to Hong Kong, plus Malaysia Airlines.
  • Delta flies to Bangkok, Manila, and Singapore. Its Skyteam partners are China Eastern and China Southern to the PRC, Korean Air, China Airlines to Taiwan, Garuda Indonesia, and Vietnam Airlines.

There are also non-alliance carriers such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Hainan Airlines serving Narita which you may connect to.

Photo by  Wei-Te Wong  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Wei-Te Wong via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Customs Arrival and Transfer Process

International-to-international connections at NRT are simple; everyone leaving the aircraft is directed (up one floor in Terminal 1, down one floor in Terminal 2), through a simple security checkpoint and scan, and then back out to the gate area. Depending on how many flights are unloading at the same time, this can take as little as 10 minutes - they keep the lines moving!

For entering Japan, again you'll change one floor after leaving the aircraft, but instead of going through security, instead follow the signs to go to the well-staffed Immigration counters. Lines for passport checks are rarely more than 5-10 minutes. You'll go down one more floor to baggage claim; if you have nothing to declare, hand your declaration form in at the green counter and exit to the ground-transportation area in the arrival lobby.

For leaving Japan, the passport check and security scans are also very fast; 5-15 minutes for the whole process. 

Click on this image to open the Narita Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 guide maps. (Narita Airport Authority)

Click on this image to open the Narita Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 guide maps. (Narita Airport Authority)

Navigating the Airport

Narita now has three terminals: Terminals 1 and 2 are for traditional long-haul carriers and a limited amount of domestic connecting flights: Terminal 1 is mostly for flights from the Star Alliance (United, ANA-All Nippon, Air Canada) and Skyteam (Delta, China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, Korean Air); while Terminal 2 is home to the oneworld alliance (American, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific). Terminal 3 is dedicated to the low-cost budget airlines flying mostly short hops in Japan and selected Asian destinations; these flights usually don't connect with the long-haul services from North America, so we will just concentrate on Terminals 1 and 2 in this article.

On the concourse (Level 3 in both Terminals 1 and 2), you have full access to all the gate areas, restaurants, and shopping inside the security zone. This is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and get some fresh, hot food. You won’t have a lot of time to explore the place if you are connecting flights; about 80-120 minutes, but it’s enough to pick up some souvenirs and resupply your carry-on bag with bottled water and snacks. Unlike China or Hong Kong, in Japan you may definitely bring anything on board your international-bound aircraft that you have purchased inside the security zone.

Terminal 1’s layout is roughly shaped like a sideways letter “K”, with one half devoted to the SkyTeam carriers and the other to Star Alliance. Terminal 2 is made of two long parallel concourses, with a tunnel & bridge connecting them at the halfway point.

Moving sidewalks are deployed in several places, and they’re necessary for covering the longer distances between connecting gates. They also segregate passengers who are in a hurry, which makes all the hallways and shopping areas flow more smoothly.

Two points on the sidewalks:

  1. In Japan, they drive on the left side of the road. So you want to take the moving sidewalk on the left side of the hallway.

  2. The sidewalks move with a little more zip than we’re used to in America. Still a safe speed, but you need to pay attention.

If you should need to transfer between Terminal 1 and 2, shuttle buses are available inside the security zone. There is no tram system to connect the far-flung terminals and gate areas.

Family-friendly Amenities and Hidden Gems

In both terminals there are several places for toddlers to romp and burn off energy:

  • Terminal 1 features a kids’ playroom between gates 26-27. Not much there in the way of equipment, but soft furniture, toys, and space for running around. There are also “kids’ parks” near gates 41 and 51.
  • Terminal 2 offers playrooms in the central food/shopping court of the main concourse, between gates 76-77 on the main concourse, and on the satellite between gates 81-83.

There are convenient nursing rooms for a bit of quiet and privacy:

  • In Terminal 1, between gates 11-12, 21-22, 26-27, near 35, 41, 51, 52, and 57.
  • In Terminal 2, on the main concourse near gate 65, 76, and in the central food/shopping court; on the satellite near gate 92.

And in Terminal 1, there is a great little toy shop at the far end of the South Wing (gate 51-56 area) that specializes in Japanese anime, video game, and scale model items. 

If you have enough time between flights to exit the secure zone (say a 3 hour gap - you will have to clear Japanese immigration), or have time before your flight if you've been staying in Japan, the free outdoors observation deck is extraordinary. Japanese airports are generally excellent about providing the public with great views of the action, and few airports have as diverse a mix of carriers and aircraft as Narita. Both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 have these decks - they have plenty of seating and are a great place for a picnic, or for kids to run around a bit, too.

Unique, free cultural exhibits that kids will really enjoy include the "Kabuki Experience Gallery" in Terminal 1 near gate 27, and the Nippon Origami Museum, Terminal 1 near gate 26. Both of these  galleries have plenty to look at, as well as souvenir-shopping opportunities. They're great ways to spend a half-hour.

In the “hidden gems” category, Narita has set up several out-of-the-way lounge areas with reclining seats, including the lower level beneath the gate 21-25 concourse in Terminal 1 (take the elevator down), and also beneath gates 76-77 in Terminal 2 (again, take the elevator.)

In Terminal 1, between gates 26-27, there is also a lounge area with benches, soft carpet, and indirect lighting. This area stays very calm despite the crowd moving all around it.

One can usually find unoccupied gate areas, even during the major connecting banks, by walking a few minutes - or even just around the corner.

Restrooms

The restrooms are plentiful, and about the cleanest places you’ve ever seen. Plenty of space in the stalls; if you need to bring your toddler in with you, she can walk around - they are that spacious. The big restrooms in the main concourses even have a few stalls set up as “squatty potties,” if you are daring enough to try.

Stalls, however, do not have shelving to keep bags up off the floor. There aren't "family restrooms" as we have them in North America - part of this is offset by how big the stalls are, and part of this is offset by the several nurseries which offer changing space for toddlers.

Uniquely. there are also "changing rooms" associated with most of the restrooms in the gate areas; these have fully-closable doors and hook space - as well as a toilet - so that travelers can change clothes after a long flight. You'll have to pay attention for the signs but this is also a kid-friendly feature.

Food and Shopping

Dining options are surprisingly not plentiful in the gate areas of either terminal. (Terminal 1’s pre-security food court is legendary, but you won’t be able to access it when connecting between flights.) Narita has replaced international chain restaurants and fast-food places in the secure zone with local vendors and a focus on local cuisine; not that that is necessarily a bad thing - Japanese food is tasty, fast, and no more expensive than Western food - grilled meats and noodle dishes are definitely familiar. Even Starbucks has been exiled to the pre-security zone; the only Western outlets remaining are the McDonald’s in Terminal 1, near gate 26, and a Tulley's Coffee in Terminal 2, near gate 62.

Shopping options are stacked toward the duty-free luxury goods / electronics / cosmetics / alcohol & tobacco categories; however there are also general giftshops in several places in each terminal that sell packaged foods, ice cream, and drinks along with souvenirs and media. Each terminal also features a decent-sized bookstore with a substantial selection of Western reading materials - AND - Japanese manga that your kids will already know about.

Be sure to stock up on "only-in-Japan" gifts and snacks for friends and family back home - such as the KitKat bars in many unique flavors!

Credit cards are happily accepted. Also, note signs in certain places for where US $ are accepted. You’ll get change in Japanese Yen - something more for your scrapbook! And you can use those coins in the many vending machines out by the gates for extra snacks and drinks for your onward flight...

Connectivity

Free WiFi is available across the airport! And charging points are rolled out through all the gate and walkway areas. You may also use internet kiosks scattered around the terminals (100 yen for 10 minutes) - an old-fashioned approach, but if you need to do a quick Facebook post or send an email and don't have your phone or laptop handy, it's another option.

Photo by  James Abbott  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by James Abbott via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

If you’re stopping or staying in Tokyo, there is a substantial network of rail services now available to most of the city’s major rail terminals. Narita also is served by a network of frequent bus services which connect with most of the major hotels; it's about an hour into the city, plus connecting time to get to the neighborhood you want to be in.

Also see:

Airport Guide for Tokyo's Haneda Airport

Our Pinterest page on Tokyo

Our Pinterest page on Yokohama

Impressions of… Tokyo – Harajuku

Impressions of… Tokyo – Meiji Jingu