Swine flu propels fear of flying

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by By / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:34 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 24 at 12:37 PM

Video: Travel backlash hurting airline industry

SEATAC, Wash. - Alaska Airlines is working to keep its planes clean and sanitized as fears about swine flu spread.

Vice President Joe Biden ignited the issue when he told the "Today Show" he wouldn't fly.

His spokesman says what the vice president really meant to say was that people who are sick should stay off planes, but the airlines say the damage is already done.

The Air Transport Association calls his comment extremely disappointing. Even the acting head of the CDC says air travel isn't that risky.

"I think flying is safe. I think the subway is safe. I think people should go out and live their lives," said Dr. Richard Besser.

It's no surprise that passengers arriving from Mexico are donning the now trademark mask from that nation's battle with the swine flu. People are worried.

Five hundred people surveyed statewide in a SurveyUSA poll are split over whether to keep or change a domestic flight. More than half say they would consider postponing international travel. And a stunning 61 percent say all flights between the United States and Mexico should be cancelled.

Alaska Airlines, which has a huge business flying to Mexico, says it's doing everything possible to keep its planes free of the virus.

Late in the night teams begin removing every pillow and blanket from every plane in the fleet. Extra masks and protective gloves are loaded as well. Passengers on Mexico flights now get personal sanitizing wipes. It's all a direct response to the worsening swine flu situation.

"Since SARS we kind of looked at our processes and we figured that just a clean aircraft wasn't good enough; it had to be clean and sanitized," said Rod Grimes, spokesperson for the airline.

Every evening and whenever a plane touches down from Mexico, Alaska's planes go through a deep clean, with teams scrubbing down every surface and making sure that all the knobs, the seat buckles and the overhead bins are completely sanitized.

They're sanitized with what Alaska says is a hospital strength cleaner, which actually leaves behind a protective germ-fighting film.

Video

Filters in the cabin need to be changed. They can filter out all kinds of things, even germs. Alaska says it's a state-of-the-art system which circulates the air 30 times an hour.

Alaska does what it can to ease fears, knowing the only real way to keep swine flu off the plane is to make sure no one who is sick gets on.

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