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Flight attendants, airline employees question industry's response to Ebola p2

The controversy surrounding the Ebola virus here in the U.S. ramped up last week when one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Duncan flew from Ohio to Texas when she had a mild fever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the nurse's symptoms fell well below the threshold in the agency's guidelines but also admitted that she probably should not have been on the plane.

The CDC now finds itself monitoring the health of the passengers who shared the flight with the nurse. At the same time, Frontier Airlines has put the entire flight crew on paid leave for 21 days of observation. If they exhibit no symptoms by the end of that period, they will return to work. Frontier said that the risk of infection may be low, but the airline was concerned about the welfare of their customers and employees.

The employees were not the only things put on leave. The airline took the plane out of service for a complete overhaul of the interior -- new seat covers, carpet, air filters -- a step that went well beyond any mandate or recommendations from the CDC.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, commercial flight changed forever. The Transportation Security Administration took over security at the airports, and the airlines changed in-flight protocols -- measures designed to protect passengers and airline employees.

Locked doors to flight decks would make it harder for a terrorist to gain access to the aircraft's controls; they also made it harder for a terrorist to murder members of the crew. Remember: The first victims of 9/11 were pilots and flight attendants.

Locking doors and inspecting passengers' carry-on luggage will not, however, spare flight attendants from being exposed to the Ebola virus if a passenger is contagious. The virus is not transmitted by air, water or food, according to the CDC. It is transmitted by blood or bodily fluids and by "objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus."

If flight attendants were merely serving cocktails, soda and snacks, maybe the risk of infection would be extremely low. Flight attendants, however, are mid-flight first responders, and they haven't the training or the tools to handle an Ebola patient safely.

The International Air Transport Association would be the appropriate agency to provide special guidance on the matter, but the organization may not be doing enough. We'll explain more in our next post.

Source: AIN Online, "IATA Stands By Existing Ebola Guidelines," Gregory Polek, Oct. 16, 2014

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