By now you've likely heard about the 8.9 earthquake that hit Japan, with the epicenter 240 miles from Tokyo. While it will likely take weeks to understand the full catastrophic impact, here are some key points and resources for travelers. In light of the devastation, the U.S. State Department is urging U.S. citizens to avoid all non-essential tourism.
Reports are showing that Sendai Airport remains closed. According to the most recent update from the Wall Street Journal, Tokyo Haneda has reopened several runways, and Tokyo Narita has also reopened. More than 20,000 people are reported to be stranded at the two airports.
Reuters is reporting that U.S. airlines have cancelled most flights between the U.S. and Japan on Friday. American is reporting that all its flights leaving Tokyo took off before the earthquake struck, and that it had cancelled all Japan flights for today. United cancelled 11 flights and "diverted seven United flights and two Continental flights from the United States to Narita." Delta also reports canceling flights, though it did not yet have a number.
According to the Wall Street Journal, All Nippon Airways cancelled 162 flights, Japan Airlines diverted 27 flights, Cathay Pacific has altered its Japan flights today and in the days to come, and Air China cancelled flights from Beijing and Shanghai.
A tsunami has already killed hundreds in Sendai, Japan. Dozens more countries—including the entire west coast of the U.S. and Canada—are on tsunami alert. According to the Guardian: "The largest waves are headed south-west from Japan at about 500 mph and could cross the Pacific basin in 24 hours." Low-lying islands in the Pacific are at greatest risk right now. Hawaii is on tsunami alert, and, while there haven't been any reports of damage at this time, the Los Angeles Times reports, "authorities said more tsunami waves were expected and it was too early to tell whether Hawaii would escape harm." Honolulu Civil Beat is live blogging about the impact.
Google has launched a Person Finder that allows people looking for someone and people who have information about someone to register. Currently, there are 7,200 records. The site is available in multiple languages, including English.
The State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program for travelers and expats is designed to help citizens abroad during emergencies. Sign-up is available online or in person at an embassy or consulate.
Airline Change Fee Waivers
The following airlines have announced change fee waivers for upcoming flights to Japan:
As of now, the following airlines haven't yet posted information about change fee waivers. Check back if you're a passenger:
Travel insurance coverage is highly policy dependent, but travelers with protection against natural disasters and weather-related events should have coverage in this instance. The best thing to do is to check the fine print on the policy and then contact the insurance provider directly. In a 2010 column, Ed Perkins outlined rules for buying travel insurance.