U.S. Operators Scrap China Tours Because of Crisis With AM-China, Bjt
NEW YORK (AP) _ Airlines specializing in Asian routes are evaluating their service to Chinese cities daily, and U.S. tour operators are canceling vacation packages to China because of the upheaval there, officials said Tuesday.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing urged Americans to leave the Chinese capital as armies loyal to rival government factions fought following the weekend crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that left hundreds dead. The Bush administration is considering using chartered aircraft to evacuate Americans from Beijing and other sections of the country, said a Bush administration official who declined to be identified.
″We’re continuing to monitor the situation,″ said Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United Airlines at its Chicago headquarters.
United Airlines is operating a normal schedule of three flights a week between Tokyo and Beijing.
″The flight yesterday had a very light load going in (to Beijing) - just five people. We had 307 going out,″ Hopkins said.
Since the weekend violence, United has adjusted the schedule so that the planes arrive at Beijing in daylight, stay about an hour and leave.
Japan Air Lines has doubled its Tokyo-Beijing schedule by adding three extra flights a week, said Morris Simoncelli, a spokesman for the carrier in New York City. The flights out of Beijing are fully booked through Saturday, he said.
A number of travel operators, including American Express, said they’ve decided to scrub tours to China, which was becoming an increasingly popular destination for U.S. travelers before the upheaval began. Tourism had been one of China’s fastest-growing industries.
Customers who have been promised full refunds may experience delays in claiming them from smaller companies, travel experts warned.
American Express, one of the biggest U.S. tour operators, canceled its six packages to China for June.
The company’s four tour groups currently in China - about 80 travelers in all - have been told to cut their visits short and leave the country immediately, said Marcos Rada, a spokesman for American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc.
As for future tours to China, the travel giant is going to wait and see, Rada said.
Other tour operators have adopted a similar approach. They, too, are promising full refunds and no cancellation penalties on scrubbed tours to China.
″We’re looking at it on a day-by-day basis,″ said Lythia Rousseas, a marketing associate for Pacific Delight Tours in New York City, widely considered the largest U.S. tour operator specializing in China and the Far East.
Travel specialists warn, however, that refunds from smaller operators may be delayed, especially in cases where Chinese hotels and other businesses have been paid in advance. Refunds must pass from those businesses to tour operators, which act as wholesalers, to travel agents to customers.