* Flights mostly operating to normal schedules
* IATA says premium travel to take a hit
* BA says looking at alternative options for Tokyo flights
(Adds quote from Air Transport Association. Rewrites
By Victoria Bryan
FRANKFURT, March 16 Airlines raced on Wednesday
to clear Tokyo's airports of a backlog of passengers and help
those wanting to leave, as fears grew that quake-stricken Japan
was losing control of a steadily growing nuclear crisis.
The disaster has transformed parts of Tokyo into ghost
towns as people either stay indoors or exit. [ID:nL3E7EG18Z]
Some countries, like France and Austria, advised their
citizens traveling in Japan to get out or head to southern
Japan. The French embassy in Tokyo said it had asked Air France
(AIRF.PA) to prepare planes for the evacuation of French
nationals from Japan, and two were already on their way.
"We're not seeing any reduction in service. The U.S.
airlines that serve Japan are still flying a full schedule,"
said Jean Medina, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association
(ATA), a U.S. industry trade group.
She said ATA member airlines were in touch with U.S.
regulators and were prepared to react if conditions change.
U.S. airlines United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N),
Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) and AMR Corp's AMR.N American
Airlines said they were operating a normal schedule.
International Airways Group's (ICAG.L) British Airways was
flying a full schedule as well. A spokeswoman for BA said the
airline was looking at alternative options for its flights.
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, which represents
17 scheduled international airlines in the region, also said
domestic flights and air cargo services were now operating
Full coverage of Japan earthquake [ID:nTOPJP]
FACTBOX on airlines' response: [ID:nL3E7EG075]
FACTBOX on travel warnings: [ID:nL3E7EG06Y]
Timeline on [ID:nL3E7ED02W]
SCRAMBLING TO GET OUT
An aviation official in Asia said there had been a sharp
drop in demand to fly to Japan coupled with a rush to leave.
And private jet companies said they were inundated with
requests for help with evacuation. [ID:nL3E7EG15Z]
Airlines did not provide much information on passenger
loads in and out of Japan, but some travelers reported nearly
one-way traffic in the region by passengers eager to leave the
country. Japan-bound travels said their flights were nearly
"I've never been on such an empty flight," said Briton Andy
Beese, a Tokyo-based photographer, who flew back to Tokyo late
Tuesday from London on an Asiana Airlines Inc (020560.KS)
"It was a (300-seat Boeing) 777 with barely 20 people on
board," Beese said.
Some businesses with operations in Japan were making plans
to evacuate workers if conditions became dangerous.
Among companies already making contingency plans were SAP
AG (SAPG.DE), Continental AG (CONG.DE), PSA Peugeot Citroen(PEUP.PA) and Cisco Systems Inc (CSCO.O). [ID:nLDE72E241]
Law firms such as Allen & Overy and banks have closed
offices, while an employee at international law firm Herbert
Smith said Tokyo-based staff had been asked to work remotely.
Retailer H&M (HMb.ST) said nine of its 10 Tokyo stores were
closed and it was helping staff who wished to leave the
French asset management firm Amundi said it had evacuated
families of French nationals among its 230 staffers in Japan,
but French insurer Axa (AXAF.PA) said it had no immediate plans
to relocate its 8,000 people based there.
A Tokyo resident who works for Nomura Securities said she
was exhausted from worry over radiation possibly reaching the
capital and its effect on her 12-year-old son.
"Some of my colleagues are leaving (Tokyo) tonight. People
have suggested I avoid Narita because it's closer (to the
nuclear incident). They are trying to fly out of Haneda
(Airport in Tokyo) or getting the bullet train to Osaka and
going from there," she said, asking not to be named.
Her husband said he would stay on in Tokyo but power
outages were wreaking havoc for his small information
technology company and they might have to move operations to
their other office in New York.
"I'm not really ready to leave yet, I'm not sure how much
of the media coverage I can trust," said said. "It is a bit
spooky here though, with big department store closed and
supermarket shelves empty."
While airlines cope with the immediate disruption on a
daily basis, experts are still trying to assess the long-term
impact on Japan's travel and tourism industry.
"Longer term, they will be evaluating the market to see
what their operations should be before changing their
schedules," said Alistair Rivers, director of industry affairs
at Innovata, a U.S. aviation data management and distribution
The International Air Transport Association said the
Japanese disaster would reduce premium air travel in March, as
Japan makes up 6-7 percent of the global market.
The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates travel and
tourism made up 6.8 percent of Japan's 2011 gross domestic
product before the quake, although growth forecasts for 2011
were now in doubt.
Japan has one of the world's most active domestic air
travel markets, using high-density aircraft to meet demand,
with more than 2.5 million seats available in a typical week.
The domestic market is dominated by All Nippon Airways
(9202.T) followed by Japan Airlines JALFQ.PK. Together they
represent 77 percent of the home market, according to
The top three foreign carriers operating into Japan are
Delta with a market share of 9.2 percent, Korean Air
(003490.KS) with 9.1 percent and Asiana, also of South Korea,
with 6 percent.
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Maria Sheahan,
Alison Leung, Greg Roumeliotis, Alexandre Boksenbaum, Anna
Ringstrom, Mariko Katsumura, Emma Thomasson, John Bowker, Jason
Neely and Kyle Peterson; Editing by Tim Hepher, Jon
Loades-Carter and Gerald E. McCormick)