Are US carriers clinging onto Tokyo to avoid revenue losses?


The increasing risk of radioactive fallout and aftershocks from last week’s earthquake prompted German Deutsche Lufthansa AG to pull out of Japan’s capital. Lufthansa relocated Tokyo service to Nagoya and Osaka and is rerouting Tokyo flights to those southern cities. The carrier also followed Austrian Airlines and Air France-KLM’s suit in keeping workers from overnight stays in Japan by stopping for crew changes in Seoul instead.

German embassy and German televison offices are also moving to Osaka, leaving only a skeleton staff in Tokyo.

Today, the US carriers were advised by the Federal Aviation Administration to reroute flights if needed.

“We want to make sure US airlines are aware of the restrictions and don’t fly into any situations that could be potentially hazardous,” said an FAA spokeswoman.

But while the European airlines are playing it safe, major US carriers maintained “business as usual” service to Tokyo. A United Airlines (UA) spokesperson told eTurboNews that “the carrier finds there’s no danger to crew and passengers going to Tokyo. UA flights are operating normally, and the airline is in close contact with the US State Department and is monitoring the situation.”

Asked whether the airline has an alternative airport in place to move their hub to, United respoded that it did not want to speculate.

United and Delta both have major hubs in Tokyo. About 7% of Delta’s total capacity is generated in Japan, followed by combined United Continental Holdings’ 5%. Both airlines also route most of their Asia flights through Narita International Airport. Cancellation of Tokyo flights would deal a severe financial blow to both US carriers. Abandoning the Tokyo hub would effectively bring United and Delta’s Asian networks to a grinding halt, resulting in massive revenue losses.