Airports prepare for ongoing effects of coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The coronavirus could be impacting demand for flights across the country.

On Wednesday, United Airlines announced it would be cutting back on international flights by 20%, and domestic flights by 10%.

Airports are trying to do their part in keeping people calm — and germ-free.

At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Communications and Marketing Manager Mandy McClendon said they are taking preventative measures similar to what they do during an intense flu season.

“We are taking steps such as putting out additional hand sanitizer locations in high traffic areas, including after TSA checkpoints, posting signage about general hygiene best practices, and of course, our facilities team works very hard constantly to disinfect as well,” McClendon said.

Some travelers, like Melanie Kinslow, who was traveling to London on Wednesday, said if the epidemic continues to intensify here in the U.S., airports will do more than just disinfect.

“I do think that in light of what’s going on, if there are people coming in from other countries where there is a lot of coronavirus, those people should be checked,” Kinslow said.

McClendon said the current threat level at Austin-Bergstrom is low.

“We have not been identified by the CDC as an airport to conduct additional screenings at our checkpoints,” she said.

The CDC has selected 11 U.S. airports to screen passengers for coronavirus symptoms.

Airports in the U.S. screening for coronavirus symptoms.

Those airports are JFK in New York; O’Hare airport in Illinois; San Francisco International Airport in California; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington; Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii; Los Angeles International Airport in California;  Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia; Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas; and Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Michigan. 

Airlines are diverting passengers coming from mainland China to those airports. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is the only airport in Texas on that list. 

In addition, this week, passengers coming on direct flights from South Korea and Italy will be screened before boarding.

“We are continuing to evaluate the situation, work closely with our partners here locally and federally as well…and make sure that we’re prepared for any changes,” McClendon said.

Consumer Breakdown

Travelers have begun a mass exodus with their current airline plans. Families like the Rahmans have had to make tough decisions.

“We planned a family trip, just to have fun, make memories,” said Selina Rahman, who had planned a vacation for her husband and two children to France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The family decided they didn’t want to risk it.

“One day we are hearing some people are catching the virus, the next day we are hearing that people are dying,” Rahman said.

“Coming back into the U.S. would be an issue, potentially facing a quarantine when we would have to go back to work,” Rahman’s daughter, Mehraz Rahman, said.

Experts in the travel industry said the global outbreak is not good for anyone.

At the peak of the spring break season, airlines have drastically slashed flights and families are scrambling to get refunds, something that is not always a guarantee. The Rahmans for example, said they have already lost thousands of dollars.

“We are losing money. It looks like our business is stagnant during this coronavirus position,” said Mohammed Hasssan, the owner of Shiblee’s Travels and Tours in Austin.

Hassan said passengers should consider buying travel insurance when they book their flights.

“I haven’t ever bought travel insurance because I travel so much I just make my flight, but if the airlines start trying to affect how I do business over some unsubstantiated fear, I’ll be irritated,” traveler Tim Kennedy said on Wednesday.

The Texas Department of Insurance said it is important to read the fine print because some policies specifically exclude epidemics.

The policy could potentially protect the consumer if the consumer gets sick with the coronavirus, but does not protect them from general cancellations just out of fear.

There are also all-inclusive policies that offer premium protections.

“People who are concerned about the coronavirus may want to ask about the availability of a “cancel for any reason” policy. It is a little more expensive and there are some limitations with it, but it does give you more reasons to cancel.”

Jerry Hagins, Texas Department of INsurance.

Flight Pricing

Travel experts said they are not seeing a price drop in flights.

In fact, in many of the most popular destinations, prices are going up. They say that’s because the major airlines are doing what they can to maintain their profit margins.

If you do plan on flying, consider these expert tips:

  • Unless you are certain of your ability to fly, don’t buy plane tickets
  • Consider “cancel for any reason” insurance policies
  • Read the fine print regarding flight cancellation policies
  • If you can’t or won’t travel and your refund is denied, ask for a waiver to reschedule

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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