As I write this, the first U.S. chartered flights are leaving Japan carrying those military families and private citizens who wish to leave. Unlike the destinations affected by the 2004 tsunami, business travellers know the futuristic conurbation of Tokyo well. Its generation-next skyscrapers and bullet trains make for one of the slickest corporate hubs on the planet.
We, and the rest of the connected world, watch agape as this most civilised country deals with the disaster, very much doubting that if such a cataclysm befell us, we would behave with such patience, decorum, dignity.
Travel rather loses its lustre during a disaster. Aircraft, from colossal superjumbos to sleek business jets, are immediately transformed into mere escape vessels. Airports, with their minimalistic lounges, extensive retail emporia and F&B venues, begin to resemble refugee camps – or hospitals. Today, Taiwan’s international airport featured radiation-testing military personnel, while Seoul’s Incheon airport set up monitoring posts.
Commendably, airlines are not keeping their distance – they’re sending more frequent, larger aircraft to Tokyo, filling up outbound seats with fleeing passengers. Passenger loads were not given for most of Thursday (except a BA lunchtime flight from London to Tokyo which counted 177 passengers out of 37, and a later Japan Airlines flight later with 184 out of 272), but airline staff were reported to express surprise at the determination of many to travel home to Japan. Japan-bound passengers interviewed (Japanese workers, foreign contractors and Japanese students) said their flights were nearly empty.