Christopher Elliott suggests that airline change fee policies could contribute to an Ebola outbreak.
The idea is that a passenger with Ebola might choose to fly because they can’t cancel without penalty. They’ll risk infecting others over their $200 airline change fee.
He suggests the government needs to do something.
[U]nless Ebola is contained quickly, it seems the travel industry’s cancellation rules, which themselves are slow to change, could collide with an infected customer’s aversion to losing a ticket credit. This may be the right time for the government to take a more active role to ensure Ebola isn’t spread by travel via air, land or sea because of shortsighted corporate policies.
But it seems odd to suggest that airlines need to eat the cost of changes, as a result of public health concerns, rather than mandating purchase of travel insurance (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates purchase of health insurnace..) or that government provide or subsidize such insurance.
While Elliott says he’s postponed a trip to Dallas over Ebola fears, he thinks that those actually exposed won’t change their plans. Ironically the last patient being monitored in Dallas for Ebola has been cleared. And spread there appears to have been contained despite airlines not having changed their policies.
Airline change fees are not among the top 10 contributing factors to Ebola. Nor are airline change fees a priority issue in containing its spread. Notably, while Mr. Elliott may use the disease an an opportunity to beat up on airlines, the Centers for Disease Control hasn’t made any request for airlines to adjust their policies as part of the broad strategy to fight Ebola.
While it’s possible to believe that all tickets ought to be refundable or changeable without penalty in the event of fear of illness (this would likely raise airfares if airlines have to take the risk of seats going unsold in the event of illness-related free cancellations), the recent scare over Ebola doesn’t especially bolster that case.
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