Domestic Airlines in Japan: Which Is the Best? (& Other Things You Should Know)

While Japan has an extensive network of fast and comfortable (albeit not that cheap) bullet trains, the country’s size and large population mean it also has an extensive network of domestic flights.

Historically, air ticket prices were expensive. However, in the recent decade, they have come down significantly thanks to the arrival of the low-cost airline phenomenon in Japan, making air travel a great option even on routes where the train is a reasonably fast option.

That said, with many routes being served by more than one or two airlines, it can be difficult to choose. Continue reading to learn more about each of the airlines operating domestically, as well as about which one might be the best choice for you.

Domestic Airlines in Japan
About 20 airlines serve the domestic market in Japan.

Full-Service vs. Low-Cost Domestic Airlines in Japan

Accounting for subsidiaries of the country’s two largest airlines – ANA and JAL – there are about 20 different airlines operating domestic flights within Japan. All of those, however, can be roughly split into two groups: full-service and low-cost airlines.

For the purpose of this article, I will count airlines that include checked baggage in their base ticket prices and that allow free advance seat selection to one extent or another as full-service. This includes what some might consider “hybrids” like Skymark Airlines and regional airlines like Amakusa Airlines and Oriental Air Bridge.

Based on that definition, there are three “true” low-cost airlines operating domestic flights around Japan: Jetstar Japan, Peach, and Spring Japan.

The rest including ANA and JAL (and their non-low-cost subsidiaries like ANA Wings, Japan Air Commuter, and Ryukyu Air Commuter) and the below can be considered full-service airlines:

  • Air Do
  • Amakusa Airlines
  • First Flying
  • Fuji Dream Airlines
  • Ibex Airlines
  • New Central Airservice
  • Oriental Air Bridge
  • Skymark Airlines
  • Solaseed Air
  • StarFlyer
Domestic Airlines in Japan
Most major routes are served by at least two or three airlines.

What Is the Best Domestic Airline in Japan?

Some regional routes are only operated by one airline. That said, on all major and many regional routes, you will have at least two or three choices.

In those cases, if you are booking well in advance, typically ANA and JAL will be the best options. The service will be better than on the low-costs, you will be able to use your frequent flyer status if you have one (Star Alliance on ANA and oneworld on JAL), and the price premium will be reasonable. Both ANA and JAL also offer special discounted domestic fares for foreigners.

If you do not have a frequent flyer status or collect miles then airlines like Skymark Airlines, Air Do, and Solaseed Air are great options too. The latter two can also be booked through ANA (albeit typically at a slightly higher price than booking direct) in which case you can enjoy your Star Alliance Gold benefits.

Lastly, if you are booking last minute and want to travel as cheaply as possible then it’s hard to beat Jetstar Japan and Peach. They have an extensive network of domestic flights around Japan and are very reasonably priced even when booking a day or two before departure. That said, expect a tighter seat pitch and no free onboard service.

Best Domestic Airlines in Japan
The best domestic airlines in Japan in one picture – the exact one will depend on your situation.

How Do the Domestic Airlines in Japan Compare?

Some routes to smaller airports, like Fukuoka to Amakusa for example, are only operated by one airline, Amakusa Airlines in this case. That said, on routes connecting major cities, you will have the option of choosing from at least ANA and its codeshare partners, JAL and its codeshare partners, and one or more of the low-cost airlines. So, which one should you go with?

Ticket Prices

On the surface, the lowest ticket prices are offered by the three “true” low-cost airlines flying domestically in Japan – Jetstar Japan, Peach, and Spring Airlines Japan. The next cheapest option is typically Skymark Airlines. ANA and JAL – and their partners – are typically the most expensive.

That said, the gap in ticket prices between the low-cost airlines and the full-service airlines shrinks considerably if you book your flight well in advance.

For example, the cheapest flight from Tokyo to Sapporo a week from now costs 5,740 yen on Spring Japan (the cheapest low-cost option), 19,990 yen on JAL, and 28,350 yen on ANA. Three months from now, however, Spring Japan costs the same 5,740 yen while the cheapest JAL flight costs 12,840 yen and the cheapest ANA flight just 8,440 yen.

When you account for things like checked baggage and seat selection fees (if you need either) that the low-cost airlines charge, the full-service airlines might even come out cheaper than the low-costs.

Airports Used

Most cities in Japan only have one airport. As such, regardless of which airline you fly to Fukuoka, for example, you will land at the same Fukuoka Airport. Similarly, regardless of which airline you will fly to Naha in Okinawa, you will land at the same Naha Airport.

That said, there are three exceptions to this:

  • Tokyo: While most domestic flights use the more convenient Haneda Airport, the three low-cost airlines use the less convenient Narita Airport. New Central Airservice doesn’t use either and instead flies from Chofu Airport.
  • Osaka: Most of ANA and JAL’s domestic flights operate out of the more centrally-located Itami Airport. The three low-cost airlines and StarFlyer use Kansai Airport. Skymark Airlines, among others, uses the nearby Kobe Airport.
  • Sapporo: The vast majority of flights operate out of New Chitose Airport. That said, all Hokkaido Air System flights and some seasonal Fuji Dream Airlines flights use the smaller but better-located Okadama Airport.

Because of this, in the above three cities, you will need to take into account the (in)convenience of the airports you will use when choosing the airline to fly with. This is especially the case in Tokyo and Osaka where the shorter and cheaper access to Haneda and Itami might make up for the lower ticket price offered by low-cost airlines flying out of Narita and Kansai.

Japan Domestic Airlines
JAL and ANA are among the few airlines using Osaka’s more convenient Itami Airport.

Checked Baggage

All airlines operating domestic flights in Japan except for the three low-cost carriers and New Central Airservice include 20 kg of checked baggage in all economy class (and Class J too in the case of JAL) tickets. ANA Premium Class passengers can check-in up to 40 kg and JAL domestic first class passengers up to 45 kg.

Star Alliance Gold members traveling on ANA and oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members traveling on JAL get additional free baggage allowance regardless of their travel class.

Except for certain fare bundles, the three low-costs do not provide free checked baggage allowance. New Central Airlines, due to the type of aircraft it operates only provides 5 kg of free baggage allowance (and doesn’t distinguish between checked and carry-on baggage).

Carry-on Baggage

On all domestic flights in Japan, you will get a free carry-on baggage allowance in the form of one personal item like a laptop bag or a purse and one actual carry-on item.

On the three low-cost airlines, the maximum combined weight of the items is 7 kg (with Jetstar you have the option to pay to increase that to 14 kg). On all of the other airlines (except for New Central Airservice which I talked about above), the maximum combined weight is 10 kg.

In most cases, the maximum allowed size carry-on bag is 115 cm for the sum of length, height, and width (including wheels, handles, etc.). On flights operated by aircraft smaller than 100 seats (i.e. JAL’s and FDA’s Embraers, Ibex’s CRJ’s, and all turboprops), the maximum allowed sum of the three dimensions is 100 cm.

While it’s not unusual to see the three low-cost airlines measure carry-on bag sizes, I never had an issue carrying on more than the official limit on the full-service carriers’ domestic flights.

Check-in, Security, and Boarding Cut-Off Time

Unlike international flights, domestic flights in Japan have a fairly late check-in and security check cut-off time.

The vast majority of airlines will need you to go through security at least 20 minutes before your flight’s scheduled departure time. While that is also technically the check-in cut-off time for most, if you are dropping off your baggage and not checking-in online then you will, of course, want to arrive at the airport earlier.

There are a couple of exceptions to this:

  • Fuji Dream Airlines closes check-in just 15 minutes before departure
  • Jetstar Japan, Peach, Spring Japan, and New Central Airservice close check-in 30 minutes before departure

Most airlines close their gate 10 minutes before departure. That said, the low-costs close their gates earlier. Jetstar Japan’s boarding cut-off is 15 minutes, Peach’s is 20 minutes, and Spring Japan’s is 25 minutes before departure.

Onboard Service

ANA and JAL (including J-Air on its E190s and Japan TransOcean Air) offer multiple classes of service. The former offers economy class and Premium Class (domestic first class) while the latter offers economy class, Class J (domestic business class), and first class. All of the other airlines only offer economy class.

Meals are served in ANA’s Premium Class and JAL’s domestic first class. Fuji Dream Airlines and Skymark Airlines serve snacks. None of the other airlines serve food (although you can buy things to eat on the three low-cost airlines and Skymark Airlines).

Most airlines with the notable exception being the three low-cost airlines serve free drinks. The selection varies, though, and drink service is not offered on some shorter regional flights. Free alcohol is only available in ANA’s and JAL’s first class.

On Skymark, only coffee and apple juice are free while other drinks are available for purchase. The three low-cost airlines have fairly extensive buy-on-board menus too.

In addition to food and drinks, airlines like ANA and JAL also still carry postcards, boarding certificates, and other “nice-to-haves” that many other airlines around the world discontinued in the name of cost-cutting.

Skymark Airlines Onboard Service
Skymark Airlines is one of the few airlines offering snacks in domestic economy class.

Ground Service

On the ground, ANA and JAL offer their select passengers lounges.

Based on ANA’s lounge access policy, Star Alliance Gold members and Premium Class passengers can use ANA Lounges and “shared lounges.” ANA Diamond members can use the better ANA Suite Lounges.

JAL’s lounge access policy is more generous, allowing its first class passengers to use its better JAL Diamond Premier Lounges alongside JAL Diamond and oneworld Emerald members. Oneworld Sapphire members can use JAL Sakura Lounges. Class J passengers do not get free lounge access.

The two airlines also have priority check-in counters and security check lanes.

The only other ground service worth mentioning is Fuji Dream Airlines’ free shuttle bus from Kakegawa Station to Shizuoka Airport. That came in very handy when I tried the airline earlier this year.

ANA Lounge
Both ANA and JAL operate a network of domestic lounges at airports around Japan.

Aircraft Used

The three low-cost airlines in Japan use narrowbody jets in a 3-3 seating configuration. Jetstar and Peach use Airbus A320-200s (and A320neos in the case of Peach) and A321LRs. Spring Japan uses Boeing 737-800s.

With the exception of the A321LRs which feature extra seat pitch, you can expect a fairly tight legroom on low-cost domestic flights in Japan. That said, it’s nothing that cannot be handled on the mostly one- to two-hour flights.

On the very other end of the spectrum (not taking into account ANA’s Premium Class and JAL’s Class J and first class) is StarFlyer and its A320s which, with their black interior are not only elegant but also offer incredible legroom.

Somewhere in between the two are the remaining airlines.

It’s also worth noting that a good number of regional flights – especially between smaller cities – are operated by turboprop aircraft such as the ATR 42 and 72 (Japan Air Commuter, Hokkaido Air System, Amakusa Airlines), Dash 8 (ANA, Ryukyu Air Commuter, and Oriental Air Bridge), Dornier 228 (New Central Airservice), and Twin Otter (First Flying).

Regardless of which airline and aircraft type you end up on, though, you can expect the aircraft to be well maintained and the cabin to be clean.

JAL and ANA Domestic Aircraft
JAL’s domestic flagship is the Airbus A350 while ANA’s is the Boeing 787.

Safety and On-Time Performance

Whether you choose to fly with ANA, JAL, one of the smaller full-service airlines, or one of the low-cost airlines, you will be in good hands. None of them had any major accidents in recent history and are safe to fly with.

Additionally, you can also expect to depart and arrive on time. ANA and JAL often rank among the most punctual airlines in the world and Haneda Airport, in spite of being one of the busiest airports in the world, often ranks among the most punctual airports in the world. Japan’s other airlines and airports have excellent on-time performance too.

Domestic Airlines in Japan: A Complete List

Below is a complete list of the 20 airlines that you can fly on domestic flights around Japan.

Some, like ANA and JAL, have large fleets operating dozens and dozens of different routes throughout the country while others like Oriental Air Bridge and Amakusa Airlines only operate a handful of regional routes.

Air Do

Air DoOriginally founded as Hokkaido International Airlines in 1996, Air Do focuses on connecting the island of Hokkaido with the rest of Japan. All of the airline’s flights can also be booked through ANA as codeshare flights.

Using a fleet of a dozen aircraft including Boeing 737-700s and 767-300ERs, Air Do flies to six destinations in Hokkaido including Sapporo and Hakodate from Tokyo and four other Japanese cities outside Hokkaido. One of its 767s is painted in a striking Vulpix-themed Pokemon livery.

Amakusa Airlines

Amakusa AirlinesWith just one ATR 42 aircraft, Amakusa Airlines is among the smallest airlines in Japan.

It codeshares with both ANA and JAL and connects the city of Amakusa with Kumamoto and Fukuoka. Amakusa Airlines also operates flights between Kumamoto and Osaka Itami.

ANA (All Nippon Aiways)

ANAAll Nippon Airways traces its origins back to Nippon Helicopter which was founded in 1952. To this day, the airline uses the IATA code NH which comes from its predecessor’s name. The airline (and its subsidiaries and affiliates like ANA Wings and Air Do) operates an extensive network of both domestic and international flights, primarily out of Tokyo Haneda Airport.

It also has extensive operations at other major airports in Japan including Tokyo Narita, Osaka Itami, Fukuoka, Sapporo New Chitose, Nagoya Chubu, and so on.

On domestic flights, ANA primarily uses Boeing 737-800s, 767-300ERs, 787-8s, 787-9s, 777-200ERs, 777-300s, A321-200s, and A321neos some of which wear special liveries based on Star Wars and Demon Slayer among other things.

ANA is one of the Star Alliance member airlines.

ANA Wings

ANA WingsANA Wings is a wholly-owned subsidiary of All Nippon Airways. The vast majority of its flights are operated on behalf of its parent (except for a few operated on behalf of Oriental Air Bridge) and other than a slight difference in boarding announcements, there are no differences between flights operated by ANA itself and ANA Wings.

The airline operates a fleet of over 60 aircraft including nearly 40 Boeing 737-800s and over 20 Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s.

First Flying

Without a doubt, this is the smallest airline on this list. First Flying operates a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter between Naha on Okinawa’s main island and Aguni, a village with less than 800 people on an island with the same name.

The flights typically operate just three times a week and when the airline’s sole Twin Otter is undergoing maintenance, the flights are temporarily suspended.

Fuji Dream Airlines

Fuji Dream AirlinesFuji Dream Airlines commenced operations in 2009, making it one of the younger airlines in Japan. It operates a fleet of Embraer E170s and E175s on domestic flights mainly out of Nagoya Komaki and Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airports. With each airframe being fully painted in a different color, Fuji Dream’s aircraft are easy to spot.

The airline’s flights are also sold as JAL codeshare flights.

Hokkaido Air System

Hokkaido Air SystemWith a fleet of four ATR 42s, Hokkaido Air System connects Sapporo with other cities on the island of Hokkaido and in the Tohoku region.

The airline was founded in 1997 by the Hokkaido prefectural government and a number of other partners. Today, Hokkaido Air System is majority-owned by JAL and all of its flights operate under JAL’s flight number.

Ibex Airlines

Ibex AirlinesWhile headquartered in Tokyo, Ibex Airlines doesn’t serve any of the capital’s airports.

Instead, it operates regional flights, mainly out of Nagoya Chubu Airport and out of Sendai Airport in the Tohoku region. The airline partners with ANA, which offers Ibex flights under its own code. It operates a fleet of Bombardier CRJ-700 aircraft.


J-AirJ-Air, which was founded in 1996, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan Airlines. It operates regional flights, primarily out of Osaka Itami Airport, on behalf of its parent.

Currently, J-Air has an all-Embraer fleet of just over 30 aircraft split between E170s and E190s. While the E170s only offer economy class, the E190s are also equipped with 15 Class J seats in a 1-2 configuration as opposed to the 2-2 economy class layout.

JAL (Japan Airlines)

JALJapan Airlines is one of the two largest airlines in the country and its flag carrier.

JAL operates a fleet of nearly 150 aircraft to almost 100 destinations around the world. Its domestic flagship is the Airbus A350-900. Other aircraft it uses on domestic flights include Boeing 737-800s, 767-300ERs, and 787-8s. Some of its domestic aircraft wear Disney liveries.

In addition to JAL itself, the airline also has minority and majority stakes in a number of other airlines operating both domestic and international flights including Japan Air Commuter, Hokkaido Air System, ZIPAIR Tokyo, Jetstar Japan, Spring Japan, and so on.

JAL is a member of the oneworld alliance.

Japan Air Commuter

Japan Air CommuterSince its launch in 1983, Japan Air Commuter has focused on connecting Kagoshima Airport, its base, with other airports in western Japan, primarily in and around Kyushu.

Since its founding, the airline operated a variety of different turboprop aircraft ranging from the homegrown NAMC YS-11 all the way to Saab 340s and Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s. Today, it has an all-ATR fleet including nine of the smaller ATR 42 and a pair of the larger ATR 72.

Japan TransOcean Air

Japan TransOcean AirJapan TransOcean Air launched operations in 1967 as Southwest Air Lines and adopted its current name in 1993. The airline is part of the JAL Group which owns just over half of the company. Naha Airport Terminal and Okinawa Prefecture, where the airline is based, are among other major shareholders.

Using a fleet of 14 Boeing 737-800s including a pair painted in beautiful Jinbei liveries, JTA primarily connects Okinawa with the rest of Japan.

Jetstar Japan

Jetstar JapanJetstar Japan is a joint venture between Qantas – the parent of Jetstar Airways in Australia – and Japan Airlines. Both of the companies own a third of the Japanese low-cost airline with a couple of other Japanese shareholders holding the rest.

The airline commenced operations in 2012 and today, it operates out of its bases at Tokyo Narita, Osaka Kansai, and Nagoya Chubu Airports. Jetstar Japan uses its fleet of just over 20 aircraft (mostly A320-200s and some A321LRs) primarily on domestic flights. That said, it also operates flights to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

New Central Airservice

New Central AirserviceWhen most people think of Tokyo, they think of a large modern metropolis full of skyscrapers.

What they do not realize, though, is that there are also small islands like the Izu Islands that are technically part of Tokyo. New Central Airservice connects those with mainland Tokyo using Dornier 228s. The airline operates in and out of Chofu Airport.

Oriental Air Bridge

Oriental Air BridgeFrom its founding in 1961 until 2001, Oriental Air Bridge was known as Nagasaki Airways. That’s because the airline primarily connects Nagasaki and Fukuoka Airports with Kyushu’s outlying islands such as Iki and Goto.

More recently, the airline also started operating regional flights around mainland Japan from Fukuoka and Nagoya Chubu. Oriental Air Bridge owns two ATR 42s and a soon-to-be-retired Dash 8 Q200. It also leases Dash 8 Q400s from ANA.


PeachPeach was the first “true” low-cost airline in Japan. It launched operations in 2012 and is majority-owned by ANA. The airline operates a fleet of nearly 40 Airbus aircraft, mainly A320-200s and some A320neos and A321LRs.

In addition to an extensive network of domestic flights (primarily from Osaka Kansai and Tokyo Narita Airports), it also operates flights from Japan to Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand.

Ryukyu Air Commuter

Ryukyu Air CommuterOwned by JAL’s subsidiary Japan TransOcean Air, Ryukyu Air Commuter operates almost exclusively flights within Okinawa Prefecture (the exception being its flights to Amami which is part of Kagoshima Prefecture). The airline was the launch customer of the combi Bombardier Dash 8 Q400CC, of which it operates five airframes.

In the past, it also opened a Dash 8-100, a Dash 8-300, and a BN-2 Islander.

Skymark Airlines

Skymark AirlinesAn early product of Japan airline industry’s deregulation, Skymark Airlines was founded in 1996 and commenced operations two years later. While originally it was marketed as a low-cost airline, the level of service the airline offers is closer to that of full-fare airlines.

In the past, Skymark Airlines operated widebody aircraft including 767s and A330s (and even had A380s on order) but today, it operates an all-737-800 fleet of nearly 30 aircraft on a large network of domestic flights primarily out of Tokyo Haneda and Kobe. It also has 10 737 MAX aircraft on order.

Solaseed Air

Solaseed AirSolaseed Air was founded in 1997 as Pan Asia Airlines. Before commencing operations nearly five years later in 2002, though, the airline changed its name to Skynet Asia Airways by which it was known until 2011.

Today, the Miyazaki-headquartered airline operates over a dozen Boeing 737-800s including one painted in a Pokemon livery on a route network covering destinations west of Tokyo. In addition to Haneda Airport, it also has a base at Naha Airport in Okinawa.

Spring Japan

Spring JapanSpring Japan is a low-cost airline majority-owned (70%) by Japan Airlines. The remaining 30% is held by China’s Spring Airlines which was behind the initiative to launch the airline in the early 2010s.

Today, Spring Japan operates a fleet of Boeing 737-800s on flights from Tokyo Narita to a handful of domestic destinations and cities in China. It also operates Airbus A321P2F cargo aircraft for Yamato Transport.


StarFlyerStarFlyer, originally founded as Kobe Airlines in 2002 and renamed less than a year later, is headquartered in Kitakyushu which is, together with Tokyo Haneda, one of its two bases. It operates a fleet of elegantly painted all-black Airbus A320 aircraft (mainly A320-200 and one A320neo) on domestic flights.

Since 2005, StarFlyer has partnered with ANA with which it also codeshares.


While Japan is a fairly large country, luckily it has a great network of bullet trains and domestic flights. The latter is operated by more than 20 airlines, many of them having overlapping route maps to one extent or another.

Because of that, it can be difficult to pick which airline to fly with. The good news is that given that all of the airlines operate safe and clean aircraft and that the flights are relatively short, you cannot really go wrong.

Still, there are some things to consider like how far in advance you are booking, whether you have a frequent flyer status with Star Alliance or oneworld, and whether you want to fly in economy class or would prefer some extra comfort.

2 thoughts on “Domestic Airlines in Japan: Which Is the Best? (& Other Things You Should Know)”

  1. The only comment that I want to make is that Peach is the worst Japanese LCCs on your list. I flew all three airlines but Peach really irritates me with the harshest carry on weighing system. They will enforce it to the dot, and if your bag weighs 7kg at check in but 7.2kg at the checkpoint, they will make a big fuss. I have never been so frustrated by the lack of flexibility. The culprit is “Tokyo Narita Airport”. I know Japanese are known to be inflexible but being this difficult because of 0.2kg is purely insane. I flew Jetstar Japan now because I can at least pay for the additional 7kg carry on allowance. I don’t mind LCCs but some of these customer practices are just unfriendly. Peach is okay but you need to be aware of their carry on allowances. They have zero flexibility and pack accordingly.

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