State Department urges travelers urged to delay Japan trips after massive earthquake; airlines ease rebooking policies

The earthquake in Japan has halted flights to and from Tokyo and caused chaos in ground transportation, and the U.S. State Department is advising travelers to avoid nonessential travel to Japan at this time.

Most U.S. and international airlines have canceled Friday flights to Tokyo because of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake which, while centered about 240 miles north, rocked the Japanese capital. It caused airports, including Narita International Airport near Toyko, to close (although a few flights were departing Narita on Friday, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo), and forced the shutdown of the city’s sprawling subway and railway system. The State Department issued a travel advisory Friday urging Americans to avoid vacations and nonessential trips to Japan because of the transportation difficulties at airports and beyond.

“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,” said the State Department. It also cautioned that there could be strong aftershocks for weeks.

Several flights due to arrive in Seattle on Friday from Tokyo were canceled, including United and Delta flights, as were outgoing flights from Seattle to Tokyo on Friday afternoon.

It’s likely that air travel will be disrupted for days, and U.S. airlines are allowing passengers to delay their flights to Japan without penalties.

United Airlines has issued a travel waiver through March 15 for flights to or through Japan, letting passengers change their flights scheduled before then without the usual penalty fees. American Airlines is allowing travelers to change flights scheduled through March 18.

Travelers should check on airlines’ websites or with their travel agents for detailed flight-change policies.