CDC Begins Collecting Traveler Information Over Ebola Fears

Another virus is threatening to undermine further the rebound of international travel and the airline industry. There are currently outbreaks of Ebola in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Guinea. It’s a small outbreak. But it’s enough to catch the eye of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From Thursday, March 4, the CDC will require airlines and airline operators to start collecting contact information from passengers arriving from either country.

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The CDC starts collecting information from travelers from Ebola-hotspots from Thursday . Photo: Getty Images

“Air travel has the potential to transport people, some of whom may have been exposed to a communicable disease, anywhere across the globe in less than 24 hours,” says the CDC in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

“The ability to identify and locate people in the United States who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, such as Ebola, abroad is critical to help prevent the spread of disease within United States communities.”

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CDC measures likely to impact only a small number of travelers

Presently, there are no direct flights between Guinea and the United States. There are also no non-stop options between the DRC and the United States. But there are one-stop options. High-profile airlines like Air France and Emirates fly into Guinea’s Gbessia International Airport. Air France, Turkish Airlines, and Ethiopian Airlines all regularly fly into the DRC’s N’djili International Airport outside Kinshasa.

Due to its alliance with Air France, Delta Air Lines has its DL tag on many Air France flights into this part of the world. However, Delta does not presently send its own aircraft into either airport.

According to the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), on average, 27 passengers arrive in the United States each day from the DRC. Slightly more, 33 passengers each day, arrive from Guinea. The majority are United States citizens.

“Experience with previous Ebola outbreaks shows that Ebola can spread very quickly between close contacts and within healthcare settings, often with high case fatality rates,” says the CDC.

Air France is one of several high-profile airlines with services into both Guinea and the DRC. Photo: Air France

Airlines to report passenger information directly to the CDC

To catch travelers traveling via other airports, airlines and airline operators must report to the CDC if any of their passengers have been in either the DRC or Guinea in the preceding 21 days. The CDC will require the passenger’s full name, address while in the United States, primary contact phone number, secondary or emergency contact phone number, and email address. Unless the airline is carrying the passenger from either country on a through ticket, that may require a disclosure from the relevant passengers.

“Having access to travelers’ contact information will allow United States health departments and agencies to provide health information, monitor travelers for signs and symptoms of Ebola, and ensure travelers who develop symptoms are quickly isolated and receive appropriate medical evaluation and care,” says the CDC.

Kinshasa’s N’djili International Airport currently has no direct flights to the United States. Photo: Getty Images

Impacted passengers must arrive at one of six United States airports

Affected passengers will be required to arrive in one of six airports in the United States. They are New York’s JFK, Chicago, Atlanta, Washington Dulles, Newark, and Los Angeles. If that sounds like an impost, the CDC points out 96% of passengers arriving from either the DRC or Guinea already arrive at one of these airports. By funneling passengers through a small number of airports, health authorities can concentrate their resources into a few locations.

Presently the number of Ebola cases in the DRC and Guinea are small. The low number of travelers flying to the United States from either country is also small. But the CDC is taking no chances. It’s another blow in an already difficult year for those airlines trying to fill seats on services in and out of Africa.

Is the CDC doing the right thing collecting passenger information if recently in the DRC or Guinea? Post a comment and let us know.