Photo/IllutrationStranded passengers at Narita International Airport are handed sleeping bags and bottles of water early on Sept. 10. (Yoshifumi Fukuda)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARITA, Chiba Prefecture--While much of the Kanto region awoke to calm clear skies on the morning of Sept 9 after powerful Typhoon No. 15 struck, utter chaos was unfolding at Narita International Airport here.

With almost all means of ground transportation to and from the airport out of action, thousands of arriving travelers had nowhere to go and scant information as to how to proceed.

Narita International Airport Corp. said 124 arriving and departing flights were canceled that day, dumping more unhappy frenzied passengers at the already cramped facility.

Airport staff arranged a free bus shuttle service to Tokyo Station that ran from late at night until the early hours.

But it was not nearly enough as 13,300 or so passengers ended up spending the night at the airport, located about 60 kilometers east of central Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture.

Airport staff gave the unhappy travelers sleeping bags, bottles of water and crackers to help them settle in.

But the ordeal continued into the wee hours of Sept. 10 as many were forced to make do on benches and floors inside the terminals. Then, when they awoke, they faced long lines at airline counters to rebook flights and check in.

A 34-year-old man from Nagano Prefecture arrived in a party of eight at the airport on the morning of Sept. 9, expecting to board a flight to Cambodia. The group proceeded to the boarding gate a little past noon only to be told, “The departure time has not yet been determined.”

After enduring hours of delay, the flight was canceled at a little after 6 p.m.

The group was able to rebook a flight departing on Sept. 10 and spent the night on the floor of the airport lobby bundled up in sleeping bags that had been distributed by airport staff.

“I wish they had told us much earlier that the flight was canceled," the man griped. "Until the aircraft takes off today, I can't trust them.”

Two women from Tokyo appeared anxious as they waited in line to rebook their flight on the morning of Sept. 10. “Let’s hope we can get a seat on a flight today,” one of them said.

When they boarded the flight to Los Angeles on Sept. 9, they assumed they were good to go. Boarding procedures completed, the aircraft was waiting for takeoff. Two hours later, it was still at the gate. Eventually, the flight was canceled and the passengers had to leave the aircraft.

OTHER SERVICES KAPUT

Typhoon No. 15 was one of the most powerful to hit the region in recent years. It not only wreaked havoc on air traffic at the nation’s hub airport but also dispelled any illusions over the ability of public transportation systems to weather a storm of such strength.

The vacation plans of countless visitors were thrown into disarray and numerous business travelers were stranded, unable to return home.

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) was forced to suspend operations on many of its lines on Sept. 9, including the Narita Express, a dedicated limited express train connecting Narita Airport with hub stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area, such as Shinjuku, Shinagawa and Yokohama.

Keisei Electric Railway Co., which provides a main line to and from the airport, also halted the operations of several trains, including the Narita Sky Access Line.

Airport Transport Service Co. had to halt its limousine bus service for Narita Airport, which connects to major hotels and train stations in Tokyo and the surrounding area until the evening of Sept. 9.

A 54-year-old company executive back from a business trip in Vietnam joined the line at the limousine bus service ticketing counter at a little past 9 a.m. on Sept. 9. He said he just wanted to reach his home in Tokyo, and hoped the bus service would resume quickly.

No such luck. At 3:30 p.m., he was still stuck in the line.

“Last time I checked, Narita wasn’t a local airport,” the man said angrily but with a glint of humor. “People can’t get out of the airport because the transportation system gets shut down? Aw come on, there’s no way that’s acceptable.”

The man said the onus was on the government to ensure that at least one lane on expressway is kept open for such emergencies.

“And it’s such nonsense that the airport operating company hasn’t offered any explanations whatsoever,” the man said.

Another man waiting in line for a rental car after a long flight from India also expressed frustration with the situation. He said a snowstorm a few years ago also stranded him at Narita Airport for hours on end.

“It’s deja vu,” he said with look of disgust. “No information at all was given about what’s been going on, and we're forced to just wait. After many years, there has been no improvement in vulnerability of airport access at all.”

Two sisters, aged 21 and 18, were supposed to be living it up in Singapore by then. Instead, they were stuck in an airport waiting line on the verge of tears.

They stayed at a hotel near the airport in Narita the night before their scheduled Sept. 9 departure. But conditions the following morning made it impossible for them to find a taxi to the airport. It took more than four hours for them to the airport from their hotel. By then, they had already missed their flight.

The sisters called their travel agency, which informed them they couldn't change their itinerary, nor receive a refund.

Both are university students, one living in Shizuoka Prefecture and the other in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“We discussed maybe changing our destination and traveling to another country. But we're already exhausted. We just want to go home now, but we can’t even do that,” said one of the sisters, fighting back tears.