Flu outbreak scare will hurt travel, but how badly?

Flu checks

Photo: Health officials use heat-sensing cameras to scan arriving passengers at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

There’s no doubt that outbreaks of swine flu will impact airlines and the entire travel industry. US Airways and United Airlines have already issued travel advisories and are giving passengers to Mexico City options for rescheduling their travel. Asian and European nations are implementing passenger screening. Other governments are looking to ban pork imports, despite few links between the flu and eating any meat products.
The initial repercussion will be on those international airline passengers traveling to Mexico, but how far will the virus — or simply the fear of the virus — spread? Despite the milder cases of flu in the United States and Canada, compared to the nearly 70 deaths in Mexico, the declaration of a public health emergency by the Dept. of Homeland Security and World Health Organization will do little to encourage travelers to make short term plans to visit any affected areas of North America.
The full economic hit won’t be known until after the medical crisis has passed and travel companies have reported traffic numbers. Just like SARS and other health outbreaks, airlines are in the trenches and have to respond fast to these threats. How much more can airlines and public health officials do to curtail the spread of swine flu and future disease outbreaks?