Friday, May 01, 2009

Travelers React Prudently to Flu Alerts

Except for a school district that overreacted and shut down for a week in Fort Worth, Texas; a few hysterics wearing surgical masks in cities where there's no flu; and of course the Egyptian authorities who ordered all pigs killed, people have reacted prudently and calmly to the swine flu alerts.

Travelers, who tend to be well-informed and prudent to start with, are exercising great common sense, it seems.

[UPDATE: Except, on occasion, silliness like this.]

Saber Holdings, the big travel distributor, says today that aside from a decline in travel to Mexico, business and leisure travel within the United States and to other parts of the world is currently holding steady, "reflecting the same pragmatic perspective among travelers that President Barack Obama offered in his news conference on Wednesday," Saber said.

"The vast majority of our clients remain on the road," said Jane Batio, president of CorpTrav, a Chicago-based travel management company with more than $180 million in annual air bookings. "We've only canceled six trips across our entire client base in the past week, and future bookings remain in sync with rebounding trends we've seen across the past two months."

Sam Gilliland, chief executive officer of Sabre Holdings, said: “Travelers are still making rational travel decisions based on facts rather than hype. It’s critically important that travelers continue to refer to and follow advisories issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as their primary sources of information, and that the news media emphasize the advice of these organizations as well."

So the reaction has been reasonable, it seems to me, as people stay informed, mostly through solid, public-access friendly work by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, whose Web sites have been admirably managed.

Vice President Joe Biden blundered when he said he'd advise his family to temporarily avoid confined crowded spaces like those in airplanes because people might be ill, but to be fair, he only made that statement after answering a series of inane, alarmist questions from a TV reporter. It's well known that Biden's advisers wish he would adopt the three-sentence rule in response to tricky questions. When Joe gets into semantic trouble, it usually starts with the fourth sentence.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) notes that the World Health Organization has refrained suggesting that people avoid air travel, unless those people are ill to start with.

"WHO advises there should be no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities," says Giovanni Basignani, IATA director. "WHO is the global expert. WHO is not advising any travel restrictions. We hope that governments take decisions and coordinate their actions in line with WHO recommendations," he said.

As noted, travel in and from Mexico has definitely been affected.

Continental Airlines today temporarily reduced service to Mexico. Among U.S. airlines, Continental has the most number of flights to Mexico. Continental is cutting about half of its capacity to Mexico, effective Monday.

And Lufthansa also plans to cut flights and drop routes amid the crisis, and said it would place doctors on its planes to Mexico in hopes of detecting any flu infections early.

[My comment: Not sure what having a physician on board buys you. If you got the flu, he or she ain't going to miraculously cure you back there in Seat 28C. It seems to me that a well-trained flight attendant is your answer, and you have those, Lufthansa. But hey, go for it. Can't hurt, and the docs will probably enjoy the free trips.]

Several cruise lines have also temporarily stopped port calls in Mexico, among them Carnival and Royal Caribbean.


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