News

Airlines increase efforts to fight swine flu (updated)

30 Apr 2009

Cathay Pacific (CX) and Singapore Airlines (SIA) have joined the growing list of carriers putting into place measures to prevent the further spread of influenza A.

CX has set up a Swine Influenza Task Force meeting regularly and updating the airline’s response to developments. Onboard, the latest health news are broadcast on all flights arriving into Hongkong to keep both passengers and crew abreast of the current situation and necessary action required. The stock of face masks has been increased and crew instructed to don them when dealing with suspected cases. CX’s high sanitary standards for seats, galleys and restrooms and catering operations is, of course, being maintained and stepped up.

SIA is now providing pamphlets on swine flu containing a list of frequently asked questions onboard all flights to and from affected areas. Health kits will also be given, upon request, to passengers who do not feel well on flights to the US. These kits contain a thermometer, facemasks and antiseptic towels.

In addition, SIA flights landing in affected areas will undergo additional cleaning so as to ensure the disease does not get spread via contact with things in the plane. All SIA cabin and flight crew will also have to take their temperature before each flight, while staff at Singapore’s Changi Airport will carry out temperature checks twice a day.

Airline efforts bring to mind similar steps taken during the SARS epidmic in 2003 as well as the recurring avian flu outbreaks. Besides heightened attention to hygiene onboard, airlines are telling their crew to look out for any passengers who appear ill.

United Airlines has placed face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitisers in the forward galleys of all planes entering and exiting from Mexico City, besides frequent cleaning of aircraft serving the route.

Philippine Airlines has issued strict instructions to its staff to deny boarding of passengers displaying symptoms of swine flu, as well as to detect ill customers onboard.

At Air New Zealand, close communication among staff has been established to ensure that everyone on duty is in good health. Its aircraft are fitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air filters which are said to filter out 99.999 percent of airborne viruses, including influenza.

These filters are also found on all United and THAI Airways aircrafts and are guaranteed by Airbus and Boeing to keep air as pure as in hospital surgical units.

THAI has also implemented deep-clean fumigation on flights operating to and from high-risk countries for 30 to 40 minutes before each flight departure.

However, airlines have yet to reduce pork intake or stop serving it onboard, as a link has yet to be drawn between consuming pork and catching the disease.

United said since there is no indication that people eating pork will catch the disease, it will not take action unless necessary. But it will continue to follow the directives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control.

To date, travel to and from affected regions has not yet been restricted, although several airlines including Malaysia Airlines and SIA, have announced they will waive cancellation and alteration fees for flights heading to affected destinations.

“So far there has been minimal impact on travel patterns. We believe that passengers can be trusted to make informed decisions, provided that there is open and transparent communication of accurate information,” said Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, in a statement issued yesterday.

Herdman added that with the guidelines developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, “Asia-Pacific carriers are well prepared to handle health crises including those involving communicable diseases”.

For an update on swine flu, visit www.who.int

Joshua Tan

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