Swine flu? Maybe it’s time for a deep breath — with or without the mask


I’ve hesitated to write about the swine flu issue, because it is almost certain that whatever I write may be out of date by the time it is read.

But for that and other reasons, maybe it’s time to stop and take a deep breath before we all change our travel plans.

First, the airline policies on the flu issue are changing daily. Currently, most carriers are allowing changes to travel through May 6. Alaska Airlines will allow travelers to reschedule for free to the same destination for travel until May 20. Travel after May 20th currently will not result in a change fee, but could result in a higher fare. Of course, if the situation worsens, those dates will also probably change.

American Airlines is at this point the first major carrier to offer passenger refunds if they don’t want to go to Mexico. But there’s a catch: the refund is in the form of a travel voucher.

All carriers say that if they cancel your flights, you get a refund, but they aren’t canceling flights. Yet.

In addition, this free change is generally just allowed once. So if you change now, and then things either calm down in Mexico, or get worse somewhere else, you will probably be on the hook for a penalty for future changes.

If some major outbreak crops up in another destination, of course, there is a chance the airlines will waive fees again. But if it is just a question of some scattered cases, and you are just not comfortable flying, then it will likely be a different story.

In short, if your travel isn’t imminent, it’s probably a good idea to just sit tight, keep up to date on the news, and make a decision in a little while. In this economy, alternative destinations are much less likely to sell out in any case.

And whether this makes you feel better or just makes you want to invest in facial masks on an ongoing basis, the CDC already tracks deaths from pneumonia and the flu though the cheerfully named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. This report covers only 122 major cities, and the CDC notes it is not complete, as the flu is not required to be reported as a cause of death.

In the latest month, for example, long before we heard of “swine flu,” and while no one was even considering canceling plans to one of these cities, the numbers held steady at over 800 a month.

As Roseanne Rossannadanna used to say “It just goes to show, it’s always something.”

  • Frank

    In short, if your travel isn’t imminent, it’s probably a good idea to just sit tight, keep up to date on the news, and make a decision in a little while.

    Probably a good idea????

    The U.S. State Department on Monday issued a “travel alert” urging people to avoid all “non-essential” travel to Mexico over the next three months to minimize the risk of spreading swine flu, which can be fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issued a similar advisory.

  • Bill

    Now would be a good time to finally take care of that leaky land border between the USA and Mexico.

    As for air travel, I never planned to go to Mexico anyways…too much corruption.

  • Frank


    WHO Director General Margaret Chan declared the phase 5 alert after consulting with flu experts from around the world. The decision could lead the global body to recommend additional measures to combat the outbreak, including for vaccine manufacturers to switch production from seasonal flu vaccines to a pandemic vaccine.

    “All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans,” Chan told reporters in Geneva. “It really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic.”

    A phase 5 alert means there is sustained transmission among people in at least two countries. Once the virus shows effective transmission in two different regions of the world, a full pandemic outbreak — phase 6 — would be declared, meaning a global epidemic of a new and deadly disease.