Wednesday, October 1, 2014

JAL Express is merged into JAL.

On October 1st, JAL Express (JC/JEX) merged into parent Japan Airlines (JL/JAL), ending the 17-year history of a carrier which under the slogan 'Safe, casual, and fresh,' set the basis for the current more efficient JAL. JEX eventually operated 41 Boeing 737-800s on domestic routes on behalf of its parent. All aircraft now operate directly under JAL, and repainting of aircraft from 'JAL Express' to 'Japan Airlines' will be completed by 2016.
Boeing 737-846(WL) JA341J in JEX's final crane livery arrives at Misawa on an October afternoon. The titles will gradually be replaced by 'Japan Airlines' titles by 2016. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

JEX was originally set up on April 1st, 1997 as a lower-cost subsidiary to take over some of its parent's regional domestic routes. It inaugurated service on July 1st, 1998 from Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO) to Kagoshima (KOJ/RJFK) and Miyazaki (KMI/RJFM) using Boeing 737-400s transferred from JAL. Some McDonnell Douglas MD-81s JAL inherited from the merger with Japan Air System (JD/JAS) had a brief spell with JEX between 2005 and 2010, however, with the transferring of its remaining 737-400s to sister Japan Transocean Air (NU/JTA) in 2011, the fleet was standardized on 737-800s.
Boeing 737-446 JA8993 in the 'Arc of the Sun' livery, which was their second color scheme. It was transferred to Japan Transocean Air in August 2011. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Although JEX was originally based at Itami and J-Air (XM/JLJ) at Nagoya/Komaki (NKM/RJNA), JAL's bankruptcy in 2010 and subsequent restructuring led to significant downsizing for mainline, and thus JEX moved its operations to Haneda while Komaki was closed and J-Air moved into Itami. It eventually formed the backbone of JAL's regional domestic network from Haneda, serving more domestic destinations than any other carrier in the JAL Group. JEX's official last flight took place on September 30th.

JEX was a pioneer in many ways, setting the basis for the now lower-cost JAL. The carrier's flight attendants were originally called 'SkyCasts', where they were also responsible for cabin cleaning (mainline JAL hired outside firms just to clean the aircraft at that time) and accomplished 25-minute turnaround times, increasing fleet utilization. It had a family-style, interdisciplinary culture where all professionals worked together to make the passenger experience better and achieve a 20% reduction in overall costs compared to its parent. JEX also became the first Japanese carrier to have a female captain in July 2010.
Boeing 737-446 JA8992 in JEX's original livery. This aircraft now flies with Japan Transocean Air in Sakura Jimbei (Encounter Japan Transocean Air's 'Sakura Jimbei'!) special livery. (Photo: JEX)

Now that JAL has shed a lot of costs, especially during its bankruptcy, JAL employees essentially carry out the same tasks and amount of work that JEX crew do, so presumably, it became unnecessary to keep JEX. Furthermore, the majority of JEX's flight attendants are hired on few-year contracts, so merging that employee base into JAL prevents them from joining other carriers, like the growing LCCs, some of which are facing crew shortages. "The merger stabilizes JAL Group's domestic operations for the long term," said a JAL spokesperson, and this probably means by that. This is similar to what ANA did when they upgraded all contracted employees to full-time staff last year to prevent a 'brain drain'.

From March 27th, 2011, along with J-Air, JEX started operating all flights under the JL code seen from the passengers' eyes, though paper-wise it was a code-share operated by XM and JC, respectively. SkyCasts previously wore a red coat-style uniform, different from mainline JAL, but these too were standardized throughout JAL, JEX, and J-Air in June 2013, with the only noticeable difference being the color of the scarves. So the merger will not be so visible to the normal traveler, but whenever you see a young and cheerful flight attendant on a JAL flight, ask if she worked with JEX. She may give back a big smile. Adieu, JEX.

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