Travelers urged to stay away from Japan

Travelers urged to stay away from Japan
By A. Pawlowski, CNN

The U.S. government is asking Americans who have travel plans to Japan to reconsider for now, while travelers already in the region are scrambling to figure out what to do next.

Tokyo Narita Airport

The U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert strongly urging U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and nonessential travel to the country for the next few weeks as it deals with the massive earthquake that struck Friday.

“Tokyo airports are currently closed; other airports in Japan may be closed or have restricted access,” the agency said in a statement.

“Public transportation, including trains and subways, are closed in the Tokyo area, and service has been interrupted in other areas. Many roads have been damaged in the Tokyo area and in northern Japan,” it said.

Travelers who were about to depart for the region or who were already in the air when the quake struck found themselves in limbo.

Craig Harvey, an iReporter from Diamond Head, Mississippi, was on his way to a convention in Singapore with a scheduled stop in Tokyo when the quake struck.

After his 16-hour flight from New Orleans to Japan, his plane was suddenly diverted to another Tokyo-area airport, and the passengers found out that they would have to spend the night on board.

“I’m actually really impressed with how calmly people are taking this,” Harvey said. “Nobody’s had any major outbursts, and people have stayed really calm.”

A video he shot on board shows passengers standing in the aisles and quietly chatting with each other.

Strong aftershocks are likely for weeks following a strong earthquake such as this one, the U.S. Department of State notes. The travel alert expires on April 1.

Japan has long been a popular tourist destination for Americans. More than 727,000 visited the country last year, according to the Japan Tourism Marketing Co.

If you have plans to travel to the region, many airlines are making it easier for you to postpone your flight.

American Airlines, Delta and United have issued travel waivers for passengers flying to, from or through Japan in the next several days. The waivers will allow travelers to change their plans without a fee.

American Airlines canceled six flights en route to Tokyo on Friday, with some of the planes diverted to Anchorage, Alaska, and others to the Sapporo and Osaka airports in Japan.

“We will not be able to launch flights to Japan today,” said spokesman Ed Martelle.

Delta canceled 29 flights into and out of Tokyo on Friday.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Al Nippon Airways says its flights to and from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport may be delayed, canceled or diverted. The carrier is asking passengers to check the status of their flight online.

Cathay Pacific reports that it is likely its flights to Japan will be affected for days.

The U.S. Department of State is urging American citizens already in Japan to contact family and friends in the United States as soon as possible to let them know they’re safe.

The government also has set up a special e-mail address for U.S. citizens to contact the Department of State:

For updated information on travel and security in Japan, you can call the Department of State at 1-888-407-4747. The number is toll-free in the United States and Canada.

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