A Japanese domestic airline is seeking to fill empty seats by offering subscriptions to Tokyo-based workers that will let them move to a city nearly 900 kilometers (550 miles) away, and commute back-and-forth to the capital by air as many times as they want.
Star Flyer Inc. plans to roll out a monthly subscription service in spring that includes rented accommodation in and around the southern city of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu, on top of unlimited flights between Kitakyushu – a city near Fukuoka where the carrier is based – and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, spokesperson Yuki Furuse said.
The cost would be around 200,000 yen ($1,340) to 400,000 yen a month, which the carrier estimates will be competitive with rents for large apartments in the capital to attract workers with families.
The regional carrier is betting that it can tap into rising demand for remote work to turn around its fortunes as airlines, hotels and retailers seek to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Compared with tourism, demand for business travel is still weak, which is one of the reasons we consider relocation as a way to cultivate new demand,” Furuse said in an interview.
Japan’s extensive rail network, which has long limited the appeal of short-distance domestic flights, has already seen job cuts as commuters stay home. The pandemic has also driven office vacancy rates in the capital to an eight-year high of 6.5%, according to data from office broker Miki Shoji Co.
The airline came up with the initiative after Chairman Tomonori Yokoe, who took on the role in June, asked employees for new ideas. The service emerged from among 120 proposals.
Star Flyer plans to release further details later this year, which could include the type of housing to be provided and whether the offer includes New Year’s and other peak travel periods, when seat reservations are typically full.
Japan’s carriers are seeking to reap the benefits of the island nation’s recent reopening of borders to tourists, with Japan Airlines Co. and ANA Holdings Inc. both indicating they will return to profit this year. Star Flyer, however, has yet to issue profit guidance, after posting a net loss for three straight years. It also saw a 53% seat occupancy rate in the last fiscal year ended March 31, down from 75% three years ago.
Rents in the Fukuoka area range from around a third to half of housing costs in Tokyo, where the average monthly rent for an apartment in Shibuya in the city center costs on average 115,500 yen a month, according to Lifull Co., a real-estate portal.
It’s not clear whether flying nearly two hours away to live will resonate with Tokyo-based workers. Japanese employees are less likely to demand the ability to work from home, with just 20% indicating they would quit and work elsewhere if asked to return to the office five days a week. Even so, the airline is betting that there’s enough interest in moving to Fukuoka, where living costs are lower and families can afford larger homes.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)