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Japanese Earthquake's Ripple Effect in the Travel Industry

The aftermath of the devasating tsunami in Japan is going to be long-lasting and the death toll and business losses are mounting almost exponentially.

What does this mean to business travel? The economic impact has also been seismic. And while much of the business travel infrastructure was left intact in Tokyo and in the southern part of Japan, the ripple effect is already being felt.

The U.S. Department of State has upgraded its travel advisory to a warning, urging Americans to defer travel to Japan. At the same time Japanese businesses have taken a different position, encouraging their American counterparts to continue operating as normal, despite ongoing aftershocks and rolling blackouts.

Hotels that I've contacted confirm that they are open, running and have plenty of available occupancy.

With the situation at nuclear reactors worsening at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ici plant, commercial and cargo airlines and cruise lines are moving quickly to change flight plans and ports of call.

The FAA reports that it is working with Japan to limit air traffic near the Fukushima plant, with a no-fly zone extending 90 miles from the plant.

But at this writing, the largest U.S. airlines with service to Japan, including United, Continental, Delta, and American Airlines, have not rerouted any flights.

Many international carriers, however, have rerouted their planes to other cities.
Lufthansa rerouted flights from Tokyo into cities like Nagoya and Osaka. Rather than having its crew overnight in Japan, the airline moved crewmembers to Seoul, South Korea. Alitalia announced it is bringing on additional crew to crewmembers won't have to overnight in Tokyo. Air France has also rerouted flights and personnel to Seoul.

Other airlines, including Air China, are simply cutting flights. As for the submerged Sendai airport, all Air China flights have been canceled through at least June 30.

Airlines are not the only form of transportation being forced to change their travel plans. Affecting the leisure market, Oceania Cruises announced Monday that it would cancel all its calls in Japan, joining Cunard and Azamara Club Cruises.

My advice for business travelers
Although the airports in Tokyo and Haneda are open, the industry is dealing with backlogs of passengers, crew timeouts and re-scheduling. Instead of trying to fly direct from Tokyo to the U.S., fly Tokyo to Hong Kong (fly west, then east) and double back to the U.S; or Tokyo-Taipei-U.S.; or Tokyo-Bangkok-U.S. There will be more flights heading west first, then you can take a nonstop flight from any of those other Asian international gateway cities.

Have your travel plans to Japan been affected? Have you canceled your trip or altered your route?

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Photo credit: Flickr user Joi
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