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Concerned About Swine Flu? Read This First!

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Stethoscope and Globe (Photo: iStockPhoto/johanna goodyear)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 18, 2009. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Aeromexico, Air Canada, airfare, airport, AirTran, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Funjet, health and safety, hotel, Hyatt, InterContinental, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Marriott, Mexicana, Pleasant Holidays, Sarah Pascarella, Spirit, Sun Country, Thomson Cruises, United, US Airways.

If you're traveling in the near future, you may be concerned about the recent news regarding swine flu. Luckily, the travel industry has been proactive in regard to the situation, and you should find a more lenient (read: penalty-free) environment if you need to change or cancel your travel plans. If you're still planning on hitting the road or taking to the skies, however, know that proper precautions, common-sense practices, and good judgment can go a long way toward keeping you healthy and disease-free.

We'll be updating this page regularly as the news progresses. And as always, we'd love to hear your tips and experiences in the comments section below.

Where Are the Current Warnings?

As of May 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has removed its swine flu travel warning to Mexico. At this time, all countries are currently classified as safe for travel.

Should You Cancel or Postpone Your Trip?

Previously, there had been a warning against all non-essential travel to Mexico, and many airlines announced free ticket changes. Currently, the airlines that have announced flexible travel policies include:

If you have booked a trip to Mexico with one of these airlines, you can request a ticket change with no fee. Date policies and restrictions vary by airline; contact your carrier directly to request changes. Additionally, if the virus continues to spread, expect more travel providers to reduce or omit fees or expand the no-penalty policy to include cancellations.

In response to reduced traveler demand because of the swine flu, expect to see some capacity cuts on routes to Mexico, smaller planes for Mexico flights, and the like. AirTran, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, United, and US Airways has announced temporary cuts on service to Mexico, and other airlines may follow suit.

On the other hand, some airlines have added deals to entice travelers to Mexico, hoping to fill those vacant seats. BookingBuddy has some of the latest offers.

Hotels are also reducing fees for those who need to change their travel plans, with Marriott, InterContinental, and Hyatt among the companies currently waiving change fees. Tour operators who have cancelled Mexico trips include First Choice, Funjet Vacations, Pleasant Holidays, Thomas Cook, Thomson Holidays, Transat, and United Vacations. In many cases, travelers may make alternate arrangements or rebook a vacation to a different destination without fees or penalties.

Third-party booking agencies are also relaxing their change-fee penalties for travel to Mexico, such as BookIt.com, Orbitz, and Travelocity.

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For cruises, Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean have temporarily decided not to port in Mexico, and other cruise lines will most likely follow their example.

Regardless of which company you booked with, contact your provider directly if you need to make a change to your itinerary. Hotels will typically let travelers cancel with a few weeks' notice without penalty; check your hotel's cancellation policy if you are concerned. If you would like to cancel your flight, you may be able to apply the value of a nonrefundable ticket toward another ticket, but there's no guarantee. Again, check with your carrier to find out what the policies are, and if there's any leniency given the swine flu situation.

SmarterTravel's sister site, Airfarewatchdog.com, also mainatins a list of airline policy updates related to swine flu.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself if You Decide to Travel

According to the CDC, travelers should "take common sense steps to protect themselves. Wash your hands, get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food." Additional recommendations include making sure your vaccinations are up to date, packing a travel health kit that includes first aid and basic medical supplies, knowing in advance where any health care centers and hospitals are in the region you are visiting, and checking in with your health insurance provider to ensure you have coverage overseas (if applicable).

Tamiflu and Relenza (both prescription drugs) have shown some effect against swine flu. Speak with your doctor for further details or to obtain a prescription.

Once you're in country, make sure to be vigilant of the situation and those you come into contact with, and be cognizant of any affected areas you may visit. Avoid coming into close contact with sick people; limit touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and use hand sanitizers and tissues. Be sure to follow local health guidelines wherever you may visit.

If you are concerned about cases in the destination you're planning to visit, call the local tourism board or visit the region's official tourism website to get up-to-date information from local authorities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also put together a swine flu resource site that includes updates, FAQs, and more.

What to Do En Route

If you're at the airport, you may be able to request a surgical mask to wear while waiting at your terminal or on the plane. The staff at Mexico City International Airport, for example, has been handing out masks to passengers as a precaution.

Wash your hands frequently at the airport using hot water and plenty of soap. In flight, keep a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you, and use it when you're not able to wash your hands.

If you're seated next to someone exhibiting flu symptoms, such as coughing, fever, sneezing, and the like, you may be able to speak with a flight attendant and request a transfer to a different seat. Keep those sanitizers handy and drink plenty of fluids.

Share Your Tips

Have your recent travels or upcoming trips been affected by the swine flu? Share your experiences and staying healthy strategies by submitting a comment below! Also, read the results of our recent survey to see how your fellow travelers are responding to the outbreak.

Read comments or add your own insight!
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