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US military help desk closes permanently at Narita airport outside Tokyo

A service member boards a bus to Narita International Airport at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 1, 2021.

THERON GODBOLD/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 7, 2021

TOKYO The U.S. military has shuttered an office at Narita International Airport that helped troops, Defense Department civilians and their families with lost luggage, transport to bases, lodging and other travelers’ dilemmas.

The help desk, which closed March 31, was staffed daily from noon to 6 p.m. and catered to as many as 30 incoming personnel each day, depending on the time of year, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokeswoman Cmdr. Katie Cerezo said in an email Wednesday.

Closing the desk saves the military $50,000 annually, she said. The cost was split between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

The regularly scheduled shuttle buses that run between Narita and the area’s many U.S. military bases will continue operating, Yokosuka Naval Base announced in a Facebook post last week.

But services that will no longer be available to U.S. personnel at Narita include copying, printing and scanning travel documents, lost luggage assistance, lodging assistance for stranded passengers, help with passenger reservations or space available priority, coordination of loading and unloading buses, notifications for delayed bus arrival or departure and calls to military telephones, according to the post.

The military has booked people departing or arriving at new duty stations in Japan on flights through Haneda International Airport in Tokyo since last year. Most military travelers going through Narita now are on temporary duty, Cerezo said.

“Due to a change in the contract, the determination was made that it was no longer an efficient use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to continue to maintain a desk in Narita,” she said.

Each base in Japan has its own airport shuttle, Cerezo said.

“Due to COVID (coronavirus) conditions that mandate the use of U.S. government shuttle, the best way for personnel to access the shuttle is to closely coordinate with their command sponsor and installation prior to arrival,” she said.

Dennis McCarthy, 69, was on his way to Narita on a shuttle bus Thursday from Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo after completing two weeks of quarantine. He wasn’t thrilled to hear the help desk is no more.

“It’s going to be a pain,” he said, adding that people will end up going online to access some of the services that had been provided by the help desk.

McCarthy, who was on his way to Hiroshima, said he’s an adept internet user but added: “Ultimately, face to face is the best way to provide those services.”

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1