October 3, 2014

Travelers told it is still safe to fly during Ebola outbreak

It is easy to forget that the effects of the world’s worst outbreak of the Ebola virus stretch well beyond the current tragic loss of over 3,000 people. Airlines are now heavily promoting the fact it is still remarkably safe to fly and that Ebola only becomes contagious once symptoms become obvious. With an incubation period of up to 21 days before the disease presents symptoms, it is likely the news that the USA has diagnosed and subsequently quarantined their first victim will not be confined to a solo event. Yes, airports are doing their bit to help – it is believed Addis Ababa, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia all have heat scanners which passengers must pass through before being allowed to board any plane – an elevated temperature being one of the earliest symptoms of Ebola.
Despite the World Health Organization declaring that it is still very safe to travel, Brussels Airways remains the only European carrier to offer flights to and from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The economic viability of commercial flights is on a tightrope with Air Maroc reporting that flights to these same three destinations were empty and only the return flights were full. Emirates have acknowledged a modest reduction in business with flights to and from surrounding areas, while Ethiopian Airlines, which covers some 49 African countries, reports that though fliers were understandably more cautious, flights were still full and they were not experiencing any cancellations.
Once again it would appear that economics and not common sense dictate how the world reacts to the largest outbreak of the Ebola virus. Would it not make sense to cancel all but essential air traffic in the region worst affected? Stopping internal as well as international flights would dramatically reduce the risk of the disease spreading further and more rapidly, giving health authorities a greater chance of containing the outbreak. It would seem that the 2003 SARS outbreak, which resulted in approximately USD$7 bn in lost revenue to US and Asia-Pacific airlines, is too stark a reminder of what the cost of shutting down operations would be.



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