Ebola outbreak beginning to affect travel industry
Monday, October 13, 2014
In the past seven months, 4,033 people have died from Ebola, including one patient in the United States. A second patient in America was recently diagnosed with Ebola, and the case was confirmed Sunday.
This news has sent a wave of worry within the $2 trillion travel industry as they gear up for their busiest time of the year — the holiday season. How exactly is Ebola affecting the industry overall?
When Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient in the U.S. died on the morning of Oct. 8, by that afternoon the U.S. government announced a more vigorous screening of the disease at five major airports.
Travelers from West African countries will be screened by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at John F. Kennedy in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C., O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.
Those five airports were selected because they represent 94 percent of travelers entering the U.S. from the hardest-hit African countries. Travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would be taken to special screening areas at those particular airports. From there, officers would take their temperature and question them about any risk of exposure to the disease.
If any travelers show any symptoms of the disease or provide answers to questions that raise a red flag to officials, they will be taken to a "quarantine station."
"These measures are really just belt-and-suspenders — it's an added layer of protection on top of the procedures already in place at several airports," President Barack Obama said.
Along with the increase of screenings at U.S. airports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created an Ebola guidance tool for airlines on how to prevent passengers who may have Ebola from boarding planes, as well proper cleaning for personnel and cargo areas. Despite this new tool for airlines, there are some who think it isn't enough.
Recently, at LaGuardia International Airport in New York, about 200 cabin-cleaner employees walked off the job because workers feared they were not being properly protected against the disease.
"As a physician I know firsthand that it takes a team of people and proper protocols to safeguard against the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases," said L. Toni Lewis of the Service Employees International Union. "It's people on the front line, like cabin cleaners, who are the first line of defense against protecting the general public from contamination."
American travelers are also skeptical about being protected from the risk of Ebola when flying. In a recent poll by NBC News and Survey Monkey, 58 percent of Americans want a ban on incoming flights from West African countries hardest hit by the virus. Only 20 percent of surveyors opposed a travel ban.
The airline industry is not the only means of transportation worried about Ebola. The cruise line industry has also had to make a few changes.
Cruise lines in recent weeks have had to stop servicing ports along the West African coast to avoid Ebola-ravaged areas. With these changes to their itineraries, cruise stocks have taken a hit on Wall Street. Carnival, one of the largest cruise operators, saw about a 4.8 percent drop in stocks when they announced they would revise some of their scheduled port stops along the coast that were in close proximity to Ebola-affected areas.
Roger Frizzell, a spokesman for Carnival said that the cruise lines often adjust their itineraries due to unforeseen circumstances such as inclement weather.
"In most cases, there is not any compensation because new destinations have replaced the existing ones," Frizzell said.
While industries within travel have beefed up protection against Ebola, the U.S. Travel Association doesn't think that it will harm the industry as long as they stay a step ahead.
"We have not yet heard any concerns that travel demand will be hurt by this situation, and are hopeful that will remain the case so long as reactive steps remain careful and balanced," said Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for the U.S. Travel Association.
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