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Alitalia Drops Tokyo, Joining Lufthansa, Amid Radiation Risk

Alitalia SpA joined Deutsche Lufthansa AG in rerouting flights away from Tokyo as nuclear workers in Japan battle to prevent a meltdown at reactors damaged by last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

Alitalia will divert its 14 weekly trips to Tokyo from Rome and Milan to the southern city of Osaka, which it already serves with four weekly flights, the company said in a statement today.

Lufthansa said it’s maintaining the suspension of its Frankfurt-Tokyo route and sending aircraft to Osaka and Nagoya. Crews are spending the night in Seoul to avoid staying in Japan, where Tokyo Electric Power Co. said a reactor containment vessel may have been breached at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant, increasing the risk of radioactive leaks.

“We’re sticking with the decision communicated yesterday,” Lufthansa spokesman Thomas Jachnow said in a telephone interview. Test for radioactivity on the interior and exterior of planes returning from Japan have proved “negative,” he said.

Alitalia’s switch to Osaka was motivated by a need “to guarantee maximum regularity of flights,” the carrier said in a statement, adding that passengers scheduled to fly to Tokyo will receive as much as 130 euros ($182) in compensation.

An Alitalia spokesman, who declined to be named, citing company policy, said he couldn’t coment further on the matter.

‘Uncertainty, Concern’

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. meanwhile added two extra flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong today, offering 730 seats, and said its crews will stop overnighting in the Japanese capital.

“We are experiencing rapidly increasing demand from people wishing to return home,” Chief Operating Officer John Slosar said in a statement. “We understand the uncertainty and concern felt by some crew and believe the decision to stop overnight stays for our crew in Tokyo is appropriate at this time.”

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Corp. is also adding flights and will use bigger planes on scheduled services to help repatriate Chinese citizens, a company spokesman said.

Air France is maintaining its two daily Paris-Tokyo flights while having crews spend the night in Seoul, spokesman Cedric Leurquin said. Prime Minister Francois Fillon yesterday told lawmakers the carrier had been told to “respond without delay” to demands from French nationals wanting to leave while advising those who stay to head for the south of the country.

Finnair Exposure

Finnair Oyj, the European airline most exposed to Japan, according to Citigroup Inc., is carrying extra crew on Tokyo flights so staff who work outbound services can return without having to rest, spokeswoman Inka Ikonen said. Some 16 percent of the airline’s capacity operates to Japan, Citigroup estimates.

Australian carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. added Hong Kong stopovers to six flights serving Tokyo through March 19 so that it can swap crews there, spokesman Simon Rushton said by phone.

British Airways said it’s continuing with direct Tokyo services and that staff are also overnighting in the city. Customers with tickets for travel to and from Japan up to April 10 can rebook if they prefer, spokeswoman Cathy West said.

“We’re monitoring the situation, but as things stand we’re operating as normal,” West said.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. is maintaining services and has relaxed restrictions on travel up to April 10, spokeswoman Anna Catchpole said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said yesterday the danger of radiation leaks has increased at the Dai-Ichi complex 135 miles north of Tokyo. About 140,000 people within a radius of 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant were ordered to stay indoors.

Toll Rises

The magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami five days ago have led to what Kan has called Japan’s worst crisis since World War II. The death toll reached 3,771 with almost 8,000 missing, the National Police Agency said. The number of dead and missing exceeds the more than 6,400 who died in the 1995 Kobe quake.

The largest U.S. airlines have maintained scheduled flights to Tokyo, though the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents workers at 21 carriers, has “significant concerns” about safety, said Corey Caldwell, a union spokeswoman. Experts and government agencies have advised that “at the moment, it is okay to fly to certain places in Japan,” he said.

Delta Air Lines Inc., United and Continental are offering refunds on tickets for some Japan flights and American Airlines is waiving change fees. The Federal Aviation Administration is advising carriers to reroute flights if needed to meet airspace restrictions around the stricken Japanese nuclear plant.

Freight operator United Parcel Service Inc. has resumed pickups and deliveries in eastern Japan that were halted after the earthquake. Services to and from the north of the country remain suspended, spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg by telephone. FedEx Corp. has recommenced shipments of perishables to most eastern districts, spokeswoman Sally Davenport said.

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