Vice President Joe Biden today warned against commercial air travel or using the subway as the swine flu virus continues to spread.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today Show” when asked what he would tell family members contemplating a trip to Mexico during the flu outbreak. “You’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes; it goes all the way through the aircraft.”
Elizabeth Alexander, a spokeswoman for Biden, said in a statement after the interview that the vice president’s advice to family members “is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans: that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico.”
James May, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association of America, a Washington-based airline lobbyist, called Biden’s comments “extremely disappointing.”
“The airlines have been working daily with government agencies, none of whom suggest people avoid air travel, unless they are not feeling well,” May said in a statement. “The fact is that the air onboard a commercial aircraft is cleaner than that in most public buildings.”
President Barack Obama said at a news conference last night that the virus is “a cause for deep concern, but not panic.”
The World Health Organization said a pandemic declaration may come soon for the swine flu, with 154 cases confirmed in nine countries and hundreds of people being tested from Australia to New York. The WHO doesn’t recommend travel restrictions and said the focus should be on mitigating the outbreak.
Obama, 47, said yesterday, “I think that we have to make sure that we recognize that how we respond intelligently, systematically, based on science and what public health officials have to say, will determine in large part what happens.”
Biden today also said he would advise against using the subway for anyone with another means of transportation.
“If you’re out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that’s one thing,” Biden said. “If you’re in a closed aircraft, or closed container, or closed car or closed classroom, it’s a different thing.”
The travel industry already has been suffering due to the economic decline. On March 18, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that spending on travel and tourism fell 0.4 percent in 2008, the first yearly decline since 2001. Spending on accommodations fell 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Hotel executives said their business began to suffer after Obama warned at a Feb. 9 town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, that companies receiving bailout money “can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.”