The current outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in western Africa appears to have caught many governments and health workers, both in the region and internationally, off-guard by its rapid spread, as well as the outbreak's unprecedented scale.
As those governments and organizations work to contain the disease, many airlines that serve the region are also taking steps to prevent the crisis from spreading.
On Tuesday, British Airways announced it was temporarily suspending its flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until the end of August, "due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries." It offered ticketed customers affected by the suspension a full refund, or a rebooking of their flights."The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority," the company's statement continued, "and we will keep the route under constant review in the coming weeks."
Last week, Nigerian-base Arik Air said it was suspending its flight operations to Liberia and Sierra Leone, following news that a Liberian national, who had flown into Lagos, Nigeria, to attend a government conference there, had died from Ebola.
The only other non-African airline known to be suspending flights at this time, due to the Ebola outbreak is Dubai-based Emirates, which has reportedly halted its flights to Guinea, another west African nation affected by the Ebola outbreak.
Last week, as the crisis deepened, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced it was working closely with both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization to monitor the outbreak.
It also pointed out the WHO was not, at that point, recommending any travel restrictions to the affected countries -- and that, according to the WHO, "the risk of a tourist or businessman/woman becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported."
Other Western-based airlines, meanwhile, appear to be taking a watch-and-wait approach, regarding their flights to the affected region.
U.S.-based Delta Airlines (DAL) has flights to the region affected by the Ebola outbreak. It recently issued an advisory, noting that "health concerns may impact travel to/from /through Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone," and offered refunds and no-fee, one-time ticket changes for its passengers whose flights are cancelled or significantly delayed in the affected regions.
Germany's Lufthansa, according to Associated Press, says "there is no risk of getting infected by the Ebola virus via air circulation during flight" -- while crews on Brussels Airlines flights can reportedly use thermoscans to monitor a passenger's temperature, if a passenger shows signs of illness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, notes that Ebola can only be spread through direct contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids. The CDC has also issued an Ebola Guidance for Airlines, which states air carriers "should consider using their own authority to deny boarding of sick travelers if Ebola is suspected."