When Vice President Joe Biden said yesterday that he wouldn’t want his family flying on planes or riding subways considering that we are in the midst of a flu epidemic, he sent a clear message to the country that commercial airlines and public transit are not safe places to be right now.
Unfortunately, Biden’s comments contradicted official advice from numerous U.S. government agencies and worldwide health organizations, who are NOT suggesting that people avoid all air and land-based travel.
Almost immediately, the backlash began.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs tried to extract Biden’s foot from his mouth by clarifying that what the VP actually meant to say was “if you feel sick, if you exhibit flu-like symptoms … you should take precautions and you should limit your travel.” Yeah, right.
Our own Peter Greenberg went on CNN today to refute Biden’s statement, saying that that travelers should not be spooked by the relentless media coverage of the outbreak, but should make informed decisions about whether or not to travel based on their own medical history, government advice, and simple common sense.
Peter wasn’t the only person in the travel industry to respond, and some of the other responses weren’t always as nice.James May, CEO of the Air Transport Association, said in a statement that “Vice President Biden’s comment that people should avoid air travel in response to the H1N1 flu outbreak was extremely disappointing.
“The ATA fought back against Biden’s comments by compiling a list of facts and figures about travel and swine flu on its Web site, which includes data refuting the VP’s implication that aircraft ventilation systems contribute to the spread of disease.
Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa also took issue with Biden’s misguided comments about the safety of air and subway travel. “Well, I think that’s a very unfortunate statement by the vice president,” he said. “We just don’t need that type of misinformation going out.”Roger Dow, President of the US Travel Association, offered a voice of reason when he reminded travelers to “heed the advice of medical experts when determining how best to manage health concerns during the ongoing swine flu outbreak.”
That advice includes not flying if you feel ill, washing your hands frequently, not touching your face or mouth, and keeping yourself well-rested and hydrated when you fly.
Though some governments (including the U.S.) are advising their citizens to avoid everything but non-essential travel to Mexico, many experts (including Peter) disagree with that and urge people to go ahead with their plans and take proper precautions.
The airline industry is already being hammered by the recession, and the prospect of people avoiding flying completely due to unnecessary hysteria about the flu bug could potentially push some carriers over the edge to bankruptcy.
Paul Flannigan, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, said “air travel has a vital role in our economy, which could use all the help it can get.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood deferred to health officials at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta when he said “we believe that flying is safe and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
A doctor at the CDC even mentioned Thursday that she was looking forward to hopping on a plane later in the day.
Whether or not Biden’s comments have actually caused other travelers to change their behavior is unknown, but some evidence suggests that fewer people are going to Mexico.
Continental Airlines said Friday that it would cut temporarily cut flights to Mexico by half, and would substitute smaller planes for the remaining flights to compensate for the drop in passenger numbers.
What do you think of Joe Biden’s comments? Have you canceled any upcoming flights, or have you decided to forge ahead with your plans, armed with a hefty supply of hand sanitizer?
We want to hear your opinion in the comments below.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- The Travel Detective Responds to Joe Biden and the Swine Flu “Infodemic”
- The Travel Detective’s Advice on Swine Flu & Travel
- More Governments, Travel Companies React to Swine Flu Outbreak
- Swine Flu Outbreak Causes Rise in Pandemic Alert Level
- Swine Flu Outbreak Prompts Worldwide Travel Warnings, Casts Gloom Over Industry
- Catching a Plane Without Catching a Cold
- The Facts on Infectious Disease and Air Travel
- Avoiding Airborne Illnesses
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com