Japan Airlines: From Bankruptcy to Bond Market

Japan is a country with no small amount of national pride. As such, things must have been really bad for Japan Airlines to garner the kind of hatred that was heaped upon it in the early 2000s by the Japanese people.

Complaints against the now-64-year-old company, Asia’s largest airline, were rampant, with the company’s chairman Kazuo Inamori describing the outfit as “arrogant” and an airline he actively avoided. 

JAL collapsed into bankruptcy in 2010. The most obvious restructuring strategy was the EasyJet model of slashing services and nickel-and-diming customers so the airline could escape the rough Japanese economy, depressed yen, and high fuel prices at the time. 

Inamori surprised everyone when he took things the other way. While the rest of the airline industry was figuring out how to squeeze customers and kill off services, Inamori pumped cash into new planes and upgraded amenities, including fancy seats and even Japan’s beloved electronic toilets in first class.

It was a gutsy move, but the gambit worked and customers came back. JAL went public again less than three years later. Its 2012 IPO was second in size that year only to Facebook. The stock hit an all-time high in August 2015, and JAL now regularly wins travel industry awards, thanks in part to executing fanatically on its corporate goal “to become the most loved airline in the world.”


In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, we look at Eight Global Brands That Stand for Spectacular Reinvention. Check all eight stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.