Image: Passengers at Narita airport
Eugene Hoshiko  /  AP
Passengers wait for their flights Thursday at a check-in area at Narita airport near Tokyo. The airport was crowded with evacuees and regular passengers Thursday following advisories from foreign governments recommending citizens leave the country.
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updated 3/17/2011 4:10:38 PM ET 2011-03-17T20:10:38

Even as airlines added extra flights to get people out of Tokyo, their long-term plans for expansion there have been thrown into doubt.

Disaster at a glance

Delta Air Lines Inc. said on Thursday that it will suspend new flights to Tokyo's Haneda airport beginning next week. Singapore Airlines has postponed plans for later this month to put the massive Airbus A380 on a flight from Singapore to Tokyo to Los Angeles currently served by a Boeing 747. The A380 has 96 more seats.

Story: US charter flights begin to leave Japan

With parts of the country devastated by natural disasters, and a leaking nuclear plant, the airlines are scrambling as more people try to leave Japan while many others reassess plans to fly in.

"The natural disaster in Japan has left us all in deep shock," Lufthansa Chief Executive Christoph Franz said on Thursday. His airline has rerouted all Tokyo flights to Osaka and Nagoya instead.

United Continental Holdings Inc., the biggest U.S. carrier to Asia, isn't cutting flights but is monitoring the situation. Both United and Delta use Tokyo's Narita airport as a hub for flights further into Asia.

Airlines had planned to increase U.S.-Japan flying by 10.2 percent next month compared with April 2010, according to Barclays Capital. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Delta would have the biggest percentage increases. Both airlines just started flights to Tokyo Haneda airport earlier this year.

United Continental operates an average of 26 flights a day from Japan, both to the U.S. and to other cities in Asia. Delta has 40 flights on its busiest days. American has six flights a day from Japan to the U.S. Pacific flying is more than 11 percent of Delta's capacity and almost 15 percent for the combined United and Continental.

Delta said it would "temporarily suspend" its daily flight to Haneda from Los Angeles beginning March 23, and one from Detroit beginning March 24. It said it can reinstate the flights on short notice.

Story: What you need to know about the twin disasters in Japan

"Anxiety about possible escalation of the nuclear crisis and simply a fear of the unknown is driving behavior right now," said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia Pacific Airlines.

Japanese authorities are struggling to cool down damaged nuclear reactors and pools of spent fuel at the Fukushima Dai-chi plant.

Other airlines kept their growth plans in place. Hawaiian Airlines, which just won permission to fly from Honolulu to Tokyo Haneda, is keeping that flight and adding a new flight to Osaka in July, spokesman Keoni Wagner said.

Quake risk at nuclear plants

In the short run, more planes are going to Japan. Several Asian carriers added flights as more governments urged their citizens to leave. U.S. carriers, however, kept their schedules unchanged.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong's biggest airline, usually operates seven flights a day to Japan; it added an extra flight to Tokyo for Thursday and Friday, after adding two on Wednesday.

"We are experiencing rapidly increasing demand from people wishing to return home to Hong Kong and elsewhere," Cathay Pacific Chief Operating Officer John Slosar said in a statement Wednesday.

A Cathay spokeswoman who declined to be named because of company policy said the airline has seen more empty seats on flights from Hong Kong to Tokyo.

Cathay and Italy's Alitalia were both offering one-way walk-up fares of around $800, which was a discount from the usual last-minute price.

Air China, the country's biggest airline, said it's using bigger planes for flights to Japan this week. Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines added an extra flight Wednesday to Niigata Airport in western Japan, where 1,500 Chinese nationals were waiting to get back home, according to a Xinhua report. And China Southern Airlines is adding an extra flight on its Dalian-Nagoya route until March 21, with a bigger jet "to meet the surging evacuation demands," Xinhua said, citing a statement from the airline.

Scandinavian airline group SAS's flights from Tokyo to Copenhagen are full, but flights from Copenhagen to Tokyo are only half-full, spokeswoman Elisabeth Manzi said.

"The planes aren't empty, but there are significantly fewer passengers than normal," Manzi said.

"I'm going home because the situation is not very clear," said Sara Ghisleni, a 24-year old Italian student leaving Japan. "The Japanese media say that the situation is not very difficult but the other media is quite sure that the situation is dangerous, so we had to leave."

Choo Dong-hwi, a 35-year-old South Korean student, flew back to Seoul from Japan because of worries about radiation.

"I decided to come back to Korea just for a while because my family was very worried about me," he said.

Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur Malin Rising in Stockholm, and AP Television News staff in Tokyo and Seoul contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Traces of radiation found on flights from Japan

  1. Closed captioning of: Traces of radiation found on flights from Japan

    >>> trace levels of radiation have been found on an american airlines flight from japan that landed at dallas-ft. worth airport. levels were found on a delta flight that land at chicago's o'hare. pete williams joins us live. give us perspective on the low levels and if this is something and that happens often.

    >> reporter: let me tell you how many, in fact, how many of these trace levels are detected every year. over 500,000, according to an official, the department of homeland security . what the situation is that no new equipment has been deployed to airports or seaports or where mail or cargo is sorted but the people of front line agents from customs and border protection have been told to pay special attention to arriving flights, passengers and cargo from japan . now, as to the dallas report this morning, that turned out to be medical equipment that caused that higher than normal reading. and i'm not sure what the source of the chicago one was, but there's been no confirmed indication that any of these blips so far that have been detected are in fact radiation from japan . now, lots of things emit radiation that will trip off detectors, medical equipment , people who have had any kind of medical treatment involving radioactive isotopes, stress tests, that sort of thing. we've learned that tiles have that clay in them can set off, they have a certain background high level of radiation and kitty litter , which has clay in it, can set off radiation detectors. so, they're set to an extremely low level . that's why you get more than 500,000 of these every year because the theory is, if somebody is carrying something hazardous and it's shielded it will give off a certain amount of low level radiation and they want to check it. in none of the flights from japan have they found any level hazardous, nothing beyond the usual things that set the blips off.

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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