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Airlines Respond to H1N1 Influenza A Differently

I've been following some of the airline responses to the flu in Mexico, and I have to say it's fascinating to see the different reactions. There have been so many types of responses that it's hard to keep track, and it really has surprised me in many cases. Let's look at some of the ways airlines are now dealing with Mexico travel.

US carriers have reacted mostly the same across the board. They started with flexible travel policies for many travelers and then they went on to cancel a slew of flights to match the now disappearing demand. Some have gone slightly further. For example, Alaska is removing pillows and blankets for now.

But many others have been more extreme. European carriers have had mixed reactions. My favorite has to be that of Lufthansa, which operates a single daily flight from Frankfurt to Mexico City. That airline has put a company doctor on every flight to and from Mexico in order to answer questions and check out anyone who might show symptoms.

Lufthansa spokesperson Martin Riecken told me, "we believe it is reassuring to our passengers to have a professional on board who is capable to assess the situation of a suspicious case and check the condition of this individual while en route, and to answer questions of other passengers and take appropriate measures before landing. This shows we take the situation and the concerns of our guests on board very seriously."

I imagine there are a lot of empty seats on those planes right now, so it's not like the doctor is bumping a paying passenger. And the doctor is already on the payroll. At least they aren't running away screaming like other airlines . . . .

The most extreme reaction has been from Asia, where people are still on edge from the SARS outbreak earlier this decade. As I sat at SFO yesterday for my flight back home, I heard an announcement from Northwest saying that any passengers flying to Singapore who had visited Mexico within the last 7 days would be put into a week long quarantine upon arrival at Singapore.

Wow. Excessive? I have no doubt. Detrimental to those who need to do business over there? You know it. But of course, that's for the country of Singapore to determine.

Determining the best way to react is tough here. While the bug seems to be less fatal than initially thought, that doesn't mean we should just relax completely. One mutation in the wrong direction and the situation could change dramatically. So while I do think Singapore has gone too far here, everyone needs to remain on alert and be ready to act quickly if the situation changes.

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