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Biden Backlash Over Travel Comments Continues

Vice President Joe Biden may represent a bigger threat to the transportation industry than a double billing of "Alive," a 1993 movie about a plane crash that forces Uruguayan Rugby players to resort to cannibalism, and "Speed," the 1994 flick that had Keanu Reeves racing to diffuse a bomb on a Los Angeles bus.

Transportation officials around the country found themselves scrambling this week to reassure worried commuters in the wake of Biden's controversial comments Thursday on NBC's "Today Show" that he has told loved ones to avoid subways and planes. Appearing on the morning program, Biden said, "I would tell members of my family - and I have - that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now."

The airplane industry and the people responsible for running the country's network of buses and trains were not, to say the least, amused by Biden's impolitic advice.

"Of course, people should practice good personal hygiene habits and stay at home if they are sick as [President Obama] advised, but life must go on," Paul Flaningan, spokesman for Southwest Airlines Co. said, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "Air travel has a vital role in our economy, which could use all the help it can get."

"Buses and trains are as safe as any other public area," said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Others used the vice president's statement to inform the public that precautions were being taken to address the situation.

"The MBTA has directed its cleaning crews to give special attention to places such as seats, hand rails on escalators and grab bars on subway cars and buses," Daniel Grabauskas, General Manager of Boston's T, said in an e-mail, the Boston Herald reports.

Biden's fellow politicos also rushed in to downplay their colleague's comments.

"It is safe to fly. There is no reason to cancel flights," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, according to the Associated Press.

"I took the subway here, I take the subway every day," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, according to the Washington Post. "This flu does not seem to be taking over the city. There's no sense that being in a confined space would increase the risk dramatically."

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, tried to clarify the vice president's remarks while reassuring travelers that it was still safe to use public transportation.

"There's not an increased risk there," Besser told the Associated Press. "If you have the flu or flu-like symptoms, you shouldn't be getting on an airplane or you shouldn't be getting in the subway, but for the general population that's quite fine to do."

Despite sparking a massive brushfire throughout the transportation industry and the blogosphere yesterday, Biden seems to be disinclined to heed his own advice. This morning, the vice president's office announced that Biden will travel to Southeastern Europe the week of May 18th and visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo.

No word yet on how exactly Biden will get there, though it's safe to assume his travel plans will involve some time spent in a "confined space."

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