American Airlines ( AMR) last week failed to acquire a second China route, and it hasn't publicly displayed any interest in a merger with Northwest ( NWACQ).

But there are other ways for the world's largest carrier to build service to Asia.

This week, American moves into Terminal 2 at Tokyo's Narita Airport, one of the world's most desirable airports because of its access to other points in Japan and Asia. In the terminal, American joins Japan Air Lines, which is about to become its partner in the Oneworld alliance.

The relocation cuts the minimum connect time between the two carriers to an hour, saving 50 minutes. American also opened a new lounge in the terminal. From Narita, JAL serves 86 markets, primarily in Asia. Meanwhile, American operates five daily round trips: two to Dallas and one each to Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Leveraging the JAL relationship enables American to compete more effectively with Northwest and United ( UAUA). Both have long-established Narita operations that include beyond rights into Asia. Northwest first served Narita in 1947 under route authorities that allowed it to compete with Pan Am, which sold its routes to United in 1985.

Northwest is part of the Skyteam alliance, which also includes Delta ( DALRQ) and Continental ( CAL). Both have limited Tokyo routes, while United is in the Star Alliance. "When you look at the three alliances, all three have about a third of the U.S.-to-Japan (market)," says Don Casey, American's managing director for international planning. "That is why we are so excited about having Japan come into Oneworld."

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