There has been a "measurable decline" in air traffic from the U.S. to Japan since the earthquake there, United Continental Holdings Inc. said on Wednesday, as airlines around the world tried to adapt to the rapidly shifting situation following the massive earthquake there.
United, Delta Air Lines Inc., and American Airlines flew their full schedule of flights to Tokyo. Meanwhile, German airline Lufthansa and Italian airline Alitalia both shifted Tokyo flights to other cities in Japan.
"Since the earthquake we have seen a modest decline" in overall traffic to and from Japan, said United Continental spokeswoman Megan McCarthy. Besides Tokyo-U.S. flights, United flies between Tokyo and other cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. Traffic from the U.S. to Japan has seen a "measurable decline," she said.
A spokeswoman for Delta declined to characterize traffic on the airline's Japan flights. American spokesman Tim Smith said Japan traffic has "stayed fairly level in most cases."
Airlines have been waiving the usual fees for changing a ticket. Delta and United also took the more unusual step of offering full refunds for travelers who had not used any part of their ticket. Airlines usually offer refunds on non-refundable tickets only if they cancel the flight.
Clemente Senni, Alitalia's executive vice president for corporate communications and public affairs, said the airline's 18 flights per week from Italy to Tokyo are going to Osaka instead. It was reimbursing passengers for the cost of bus or train tickets from Tokyo to Osaka, he said.
Senni said the airline responded to criticism about the high cost of last-minute tickets by offering seats out of Tokyo for 800 euros, or about $1,100, for walk-up passengers.
The change to Osaka also allows flight crews to spend the night there. After the quake, Alitalia had been sending two crews on every flight, so one crew could fly the return trip rather than stay overnight in Tokyo.
Airline shares have fallen sharply this week, with United Continental down 7.7 percent, Delta down 9.2 percent, and American parent AMR Corp. down 2.4 percent.