Airlines rethink Japan coverage

Airlines with operations throughout the Far East are reviewing their flights as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, a situation that has been compounded by the ongoing problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

Airlines have been seriously impacted by declining numbers of passengers traveling to Japan - both on business and for leisure - while the triple-layered disaster has caused staffing and supply concerns for air operators.

The result is likely to be widespread disruption for travelers in the region, although airlines have stated that they hope any inconvenience will be short-lived.

Japan Airlines has been among those companies most seriously affected and has announced that it will reduce capacity on many of its international routes by reducing the frequency of its flights and switching to smaller aircraft between April 6 and 27.

The airline had already been struggling to rebuild after recently emerging from bankruptcy proceedings and these new problems are likely to affect its longer-term profitability.

"JAL aims to swiftly react to various event risks that affect the industry," the company said in a statement. "In response to the recent natural disaster in Japan, the airline will adjust capacity to meet the resulting changes in demand while maintaining its international network."

Some 74 flights on 11 international routes are affected, including between Tokyo's Narita Airport and Honolulu, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong, as well as between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Seoul.

Australian budget airline Jetstar, part of the Qantas group, is suspending its four weekly flights to Japan from April to August, while the parent airline is to use smaller Airbus 330 aircraft on its flights from Sydney to Narita.

British Airways has not cancelled flights to Tokyo, according to Willie Walsh, chief executive of the airline, but has added a stopover at South Korea's Incheon International Airport. That is in part due to problems with air crew accommodation near Narita Airport, although Walsh said the airline hopes "to re-establish direct links as soon as possible."

Germany's Lufthansa, Air France and sister airline KLM have also moved their crews to Seoul and are using catering services out of South Korea, even though the stopover adds around two hours to long-haul flights.

American Airlines has previously announced that it will suspend flights from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Narita and one of its Dallas/Fort Worth to Narita round-trips, effective April 6.

JR

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