U.S. airlines halt most service in Japan after quake

CHICAGO Fri Mar 11, 2011 3:39pm EST

Sendai Airport is flooded after a tsunami following an earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011. REUTERS/KYODO

Sendai Airport is flooded after a tsunami following an earthquake in Sendai, northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/KYODO

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. airlines canceled most of their flights to and from Japan on Friday, although limited service remained after the country suffered a major earthquake that hobbled operations at Tokyo's main international airport at Narita.

Delta Air Lines Inc, which operates more flights in Japan than any other U.S. carrier, said 29 flights were canceled on Friday into and out of Tokyo as a result of runway and facility closures. Delta operates nearly 60 daily flights to and from Narita and Haneda airports.

"There are no reports of injuries to customers or employees at any Delta facility in Japan," said the carrier, which has a hub at Narita, in a statement.

Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Continental Holdings said at a conference in Houston he had gotten word that runways at Narita's airport were not damaged, but rail travel was down, preventing customers and employees from getting there.

"Operations may be canceled for today, and potentially tomorrow," he said, as more infrastructure damage assessments are made.

United Continental said it diverted seven United flights and two Continental flights from the United States that were headed to Narita, where it has a hub.

The company, formed in the merger of United and Continental Airlines last year, has canceled 10 United U.S.-to-Narita flights for Friday and one U.S.-to-Narita for Continental, although limited service remains, spokeswoman Megan McCarthy said.

AMR Corp's American Airlines said it canceled all of its Japan operations for Friday. The carrier said it had six flights inbound to Tokyo at the time of the earthquake.

"All of our flights that were leaving Tokyo did so prior to the earthquake," AMR spokesman Tim Smith said.

AMR flies to Narita and Tokyo Haneda and partners with Japan Airlines.

The earthquake was the most powerful since Japan started keeping records 140 years ago. It rocked the northeast coast and triggered a monster tsunami that hit Japan and threatened the Pacific basin.

Press reports said 13,000 people were stranded at Tokyo's Narita Airport and 10,000 people were stranded at Haneda Airport.

Major U.S. carriers in recent years have beefed up service to Asia to capture more of the business travel market.

U.S. airline shares were mostly higher on Friday with the Arca airline index up 0.4 percent. Delta was up 0.3 percent at $11.21 and United Continental was off 0.5 percent to $24.83. AMR gained 2.1 percent to $6.67.

Oil, which directly affects the price of jet fuel, slid more than $3 a barrel after the earthquake.

(Reporting by Kyle Peterson and Karen Jacobs, with additional reporting by Kristen Hays, editing by Dave Zimmerman)