US airlines halt most service in Japan after quake

U.S. airlines cancelled 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.

The exact number of flight cancellations was unclear and airlines cautioned that the situation was rapidly changing after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a resulting tsunami.

AMR Corp’s (AMR.N) American Airlines said it has cancelled 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 International Airport and Tokyo Haneda and partners with Japan Airlines (JALFQ.PK).

United Continental Holdings (UAL.N), formed from a merger last year of United and Continental, said it diverted seven United flights and two Continental flights from the United States to Narita. United has a hub at Narita.

The company has cancelled 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.

She said flights to Hawaii and Guam were unaffected so far.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) said it had flight cancellations at airports in Japan. But the carrier, which has a hub at Narita and operations in Haneda, did not have an immediate total number of cancellations.

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 entire Pacific basin.

Press reports said 13,000 people were stranded at Tokyo’s Narita Airport and 10,000 people were stranded at Haneda Airport. Some outbound flights have resumed from Narita.

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 broadly higher on Friday with the Arca airline index .XALup 1.26 percent. 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, editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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