Probably you’ve been reading about the new swine flu outbreak on Effect Measure and Aetiology. At this stage, public health officials are keeping careful watch on this epidemic to try to keep it from becoming a pandemic.
And this is the news in the back of my mind as I need to arrange air travel in the coming months. Nothing makes me want to book airline tickets more than the project of being in a metal tube with germy humans.
I did some poking around to see what kinds of measures the airlines might be taking to avoid helping spread swine flu and the people carrying it around.
The airline said it will waive standard change fee, advance reservation and ticketing requirements for customers with travel to, from or through Mexico City on the dates of April 24th through April 30th.
The change will allow airline travelers to move their entire itinerary up to seven days before or after the scheduled origination date.
In other words, folks with plans to travel to, or through, Mexico City can opt out of doing so without eating the value of their plane tickets while the swine flu epidemic there seems to be at its height. (Also, the airline is letting folks trade in their tickets to Mexico City for tickets to alternate destinations.)
The airline says it “is offering international passengers traveling to Mexico City, or who are required to catch connecting flights at the Mexico City airport, the option of rescheduling their flights and/or travel dates at no extra charge.’
Flyers have to be booked to travel between April 24 and April 30.
These measures, of course, are aimed at protecting healthy travelers from traveling to regions where they are likely to acquire swine flu.
As far as measures intended to keep those travelers who might have swine flu from spreading it, I found this:
CNN reports that San Diego International Airport , near the Mexican border, has posted signs encouraging airline passengers top wash their hands frequently, and cover while they cough. There have been reports of more flyers showing up at airline gates with surgical masks in place. National Public Radio reports cleaners and workers at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport have already donned surgical masks, and that signs line the terminal cautioning passengers to take precautions against the spread of the disease.
Here, I’d like to suggest that the airlines might do a lot to cut down on the spread of swine flu and similar contagious diseases if they had a policy in place that allowed people with symptoms to reschedule their flights without paying big penalties. If the cost of a plane ticket is relatively high (to the traveler) and if there’s no reasonable way to reschedule for a minimal fee, then people are going to keep getting on planes when they don’t feel well. This means that face-masks and stepped up cleaning of aircraft notwithstanding, sick people on planes will likely sicken healthy people on planes.
And then, the germs have won.
Of course, the airlines want to fill every seat on every flight. It costs a lot to fly a commercial airliner, even with fuel prices down a bit. But it seems to me that a policy that let people reschedule when they’re coming down with symptoms of something contagious might create a pool of people who, once healthy, would be looking to fill some of the seats that opened up when other ailing travelers decided that they shouldn’t be bringing their germy selves on a plane. It might also build some goodwill between the airlines and customers, and possibly coax some people who avoid flying because they don’t want to be sitting next to a feverish, coughing vector of disease into flying again.