Airlines take steps to cut swine flu risk


POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

At least two airlines that fly between Hawaii and the mainland are taking steps to prevent the spread of swine flu.

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Since last week, Hawaiian Airlines replaced blankets daily on every mainland and international flight departing from Honolulu, and Alaska Airlines removed all pillows and blankets from its fleet.

Two of the six people in Hawaii diagnosed with the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, had traveled recently to the mainland, although which airline they used was not disclosed.

A soldier who had traveled to Texas last month returned with the disease and infected his wife. A school-age child returned from California last with the disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations to airlines last week to help prevent the virus from spreading. Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines took additional steps to protect passengers and staff.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said the airline previously changed blankets three times a week for mainland and international flights departing Hawaii.

The airlines continue to replace blankets that appear used on flights returning to Honolulu. Pillows are changed daily.

On international flights, questionnaires are being distributed to passengers inquiring about their flight history and whether they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.

On Hawaiian Airlines, passengers suspected of having a communicable disease are isolated. Respiratory masks are provided to ill passengers to wear during the duration of the flight. Wagner said they have not received any reports of any passenger suffering from the H1N1 virus.

Alaska Airlines removed all pillows and blankets from its fleet of 114 airplanes. Spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said she did not have information available as to how often pillows and blankets were previously changed but said they are frequently cleaned and sanitized.

Cleaning procedures in the cabin have expanded to include a virus-killing liquid to disinfect and sanitize surfaces.

“;We're paying special attention to knobs, anywhere where there's human contact,”; said Egan.

Paul Skellon, vice president of go! Airlines, said there is a heightened awareness about the virus among the staff to be wary of any passenger that may appear to be suffering from flu-like symptoms. The airline, which flies interisland, does not provide pillows and blankets to passengers. Skellon said there have been no reports of any passenger suffering from the virus.