Radiation Forces Flight Attendants to Choose

Flights to Japan resume despite uncertainty

By Greg Bledsoe
|  Friday, Mar 18, 2011  |  Updated 9:32 PM PDT
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A local flight attendant says she has a choice to make before her next trip.

Should she return to Japan?

"It's a tough decision to make," said Jeannie Holmes, a Delta flight attendant scheduled to fly to Japan early next week.

Holmes was in the air on the way to Narita, just north of Tokyo, when the quake hit earlier this month.  She says the flight was diverted to Sapporo where the crew and passengers spent 11 hours sitting on the runway waiting for information.

"It's heartbreaking.  It's very heartbreaking, " said Holmes. "It was very emotional for a lot of the Japanese."

She says with the threat of nuclear meltdowns and risk of radiation poisoning, she's not sure she wants to fly back to Narita next week.

Holmes says Delta is allowing flight attendants to drop the flight, but there is no guarantee they'll be able to make up the trip, therefore losing their pay for that particular time.

Holmes has put in a request to change to a domestic flight, and is waiting for word.

In the meantime, she says the airline has instructed crews to bring flashlights, extra food, and extra clothing as some of the hotels in Japan are still without running water and heat.

"You want to do your job.  You know that in your gut, you need to go," she said. "But it's also like, is this the wisest thing?"

On Friday, the chief of the United Nations Nuclear Regulatory Agency said so far Tokyo has not seen dangerous levels of radiation.  While in other cities, like Fukushima Daiichi, it's a different story.

"At certain moments, at certain sites, the nuclear radio activity was dangerous, harmful for human health," said Yukiya Amano. "In other cities, like in Tokyo, it is not the case."

Holmes said she is going to assess the situation over the coming days, and wait as long as possible to make her decision, but already has a feeling about what she'll do.

"I owe a debt to these people.  I still love my job after all these years," she says, "I would probably go.  I'd probably go."

After all, she says, seeing the people right after the quake, helps put this decision in perspective.

"For us, I call this an inconvenience," she said. "This is a tragedy for these people. They don't know if their loved ones are alive."

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