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Southwest Air Lines

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Photo: TARUMI Kengo

In a connecting bus at the Haneda Airport, some young ladies pointed at a trademark of Southwest Air Lines, and—in an innocent tone—asked: “What airplane is that?” So, someone unaware of this airline seems to still exist. Southwest Air Lines fly from mainland Japan towards Naha, Miyako Island, and Yaeyama Islands. It also serves as an aerial transport of the outlying islands, connecting Naha and Kitadaitōjima, Minamidaitōjima, Aguni Island, and Kume Island, or Ishigaki Island to Yonaguni Island and Hateruma Island.

Any passenger boarding this airline has a delightful face on them, longing for the southern islands. On their return, they fly back to the mainland with souvenirs—the awamori Donan which is 60% alcohol high, or pineapples. Connections with the outlying islands are decided by the weather and flights are often canceled, which is an inevitable spoiler for tourists with limited traveling days. Most of the transiting travelers of this airline take advantage of the tourist drawback system1 to purchase alcohol or perfumes at shopping counters in Naha. When cherry blossoms bloom in Tokyo, the bathing season starts in the southern islands. People return well-tanned from those islands, with hibiscus in their hands and a scent of summer. (SAWANO Hitoshi)

Southwest Air Lines operates the longest regular flight in Japan, from Haneda Airport to Miyako Island. Besides, among the Japanese airlines often named tastelessly, “Southwest Air Lines” is quite an excellent name: definite and full of admiration towards the faraway lands. (IKEZAWA Natsuki)

Two years since I wrote “quite an excellent name,” this airline has transformed itself into a name totally leaving out its regionality: “Japan Transocean Air.” This transformation meant to emphasize its position as a subsidiary of Japan Airlines. Regrettable for the passengers is that the labor-management relationship became strained and it acquired an awful habit of holding a strike at an absurd time. Its name-changing policy of freeing from the regionality for a nationwide development has, recently, quite retreated. Despite its change, it was unlikely for the obaa of the islands to learn such a uselessly long foreign name; hence the name “Southwest Air Lines” is still strong among the locals. And even today, we can find orange and white umbrellas or stickers—the “Southwest Air Lines remaining goods”—in the corners of the airport, which is a hidden joy for the fans.

Editor’s Note:

  1. A system enacted from 1972 to 2002, in order to promote tourism in Okinawa.