Do You Need to Adjust Your Refund Policies and Trip Screening in Light of the Swine Flu Infodemic?
Vice President Joe Biden created an uproar when he was interviewed on NBC’s Today show Thursday April 30, and recommended against travel on airlines and public transportation. The interview prompted a quick response from the travel industry and health professionals stating the Vice President’s remarks were inappropriate. Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization (WHO) official leading the swine flu fight, has repeatedly advised against travel restrictions. Nonetheless, several AOA members have begun to get calls from customers with reservations about their trips.
The warnings of a pandemic by the World Health Organization have also raised the public’s fears because it sounds like a catastrophic event. The definition is less onerous than the connotation. Currently, the WHO warning is at Phase 5.
• Phase 5: Human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one region. Strong signal that pandemic is imminent.
• Phase 6: Pandemic phase, with human-to-human spread of virus in at least two countries in the same geographic region and extending to at least one other country outside the region.
To put the current swine flu outbreak into perspective, the reaction appears to be significantly overblown. The regular flu kills 35,000 annually. Malaria kills 1 million each year, but no dire warnings are issued, just precautions and anti-malaria drugs if you travel to an area where it is present. Just over 100 cases of swine flu have been reported in the U.S., as of May 1st, according to the CDC with the most occurring in New York. The CDC site is the best source for valid information about the virus, its prevalence and strategies to prevent its spread. As of this morning, the only travel advisory issued by the CDC is a recommendation against non essential travel to Mexico. Media outlets and health organizations report different data on the number of cases in various countries on the same day, so it is even harder to determine how widespread the virus is worldwide.
Nonetheless, AOA members need to be prepared to address consumer concerns:
• with talking points that use the facts, not hysteria;
• consider adjusting refund policies if you meet resistance, although that is only being done for Mexico by most airlines and tour operators;
• for multi-day trips safety talks may need to incorporate the flu’s symptoms and include strategies to avoid spreading germs;
• be prepared for the eventuality that someone on a multi-day trip may come down with the virus. Most outfitters are prepared for these events anyway, but older people may be more at risk if they contract the virus.
Here is what the CDC is advising airline professionals to do when they encounter someone with possible symptoms.
“During the swine influenza outbreak, extra vigilance is required to identify and report passengers with respiratory symptoms or fever. Any passenger who appears ill, or who reports not feeling well, should be observed or queried for the following signs or symptoms:
• Feeling feverish or temperature greater than 100°F (37.8°C) if measured. For children, feeling warm by parent’s report
• Sore throat
• Stuffy or runny nose
Any passengers observed to have or who report having two or more of these symptoms should be reported immediately to the CDC Quarantine Station in the jurisdiction of the airport where the plane is expected to land.”
Since these symptoms can also indicate allergies or other illnesses, it is difficult to know, without a test if someone actually has the flu. If running multi-day trips, consult with your physician on what to do if someone comes down with the flu on the trip.