Air Travel and the Ebola Circus.



Air Travel and the Ebola Circus.

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” –Jimmy Buffet

Government leaders are frantic to do something, anything, to assuage concern about the potential spread of Ebola. But air travel is neither the problem nor the solution.

Nonetheless, the government answer is, as in so many crises, that even doing a useless thing is better than doing nothing. So we now have “increased screening” at several airports, including JFK. But the problem is, the Ebola patient who died recently in Dallas arrived from Brussels, while the increased screening targets passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leonne, and Guinea. One connection later, as in his case, the possibility of detection is beyond the “new” screening.



Meanwhile, no mention is made of special screening of international arrivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, all of which have seaports and airports with regular international arrivals from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The Dallas Ebola carrier could just as easily have entered the US on the west coast–or through DFW, Chicago or Miami for that matter–with no additional “screening.” And the notion that  increasing screening at certain airports is the solution sidesteps the fact that a traveler could arrive in Mexico City or Toronto and simply drive or walk across the border; or, working a cargo, tanker or cruise ship, simply enter through any seaport.  Again, it’s not air travel, it’s global mobility that is the vulnerability.

In any case, the special new air travel screening is really little more than a drug store twenty dollar digital thermometer and a lot of self-reporting. That charade is more theater than medicine, as Ebola has proven time and again, lying dormant well past the initial examination. The “enhanced” screening ignores the majority of the arrivals, and has a limited accuracy due to the incubation period of the disease, for the small minority of international arrivals who are screened. And there’s no special screening for the enormous flow of rail, sea or motor transportation across our borders.


Seriously? This is "enhanced screening?"

Seriously? This is “enhanced screening?”


And even worse yet, the lynchpin of the “enhanced” screening procedure is truthful answers to posed questions. The Dallas Ebola carrier simply didn’t report his exposure in order to enable his travel and the new “temperature check” wouldn’t have–and didn’t, as he departed Africa–detect the latent disease anyway.




Given the high profile of Ebola as news media rush to cover and broadcast a “scare,” it was inevitable that panic would attend an incident of vomiting on an airplane. But the reality is, passengers getting airsick is as old as air travel itself. I used to take it personally as a pilot, as if I’d somehow not flown smoothly enough. That was until I noted that even just taxiing out from Las Vegas or New Orleans was often attended by hangover puking in the cabin. Now, however, this typical, ugly occurrence warrants a Hazmat response, plus YouTube and Twitter coverage of the unfortunate event.




The crossroads of Ebola and air travel is a cataclysm of the news media at its worst and social media at its best: the tail wags the dog as regular news sources struggle to keep up with the instantaneous digital grapevine of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

In the end, cable and broadcast media abdicate their responsibilities to investigate and report facts and simply show random, unmediated Tweets and video clips and call it news. As a nation we’re all the worse for indulging in group hysteria, but it seems that nothing is more important for an individual with a cellphone than a shot at the Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame which the desperate-for-headlines news media recklessly offers. Culture, unfortunately, trumps common sense and journalistic ethics.




Meanwhile, the government implements showy passenger screening changes for air travel only and calls that prevention, neglecting any meaningful intervention in a global threat by attacking the disease itself. That in a nutshell is the hopeless tragicomedy that is the “first world” public and government response to a deadly plague.

Because while the media microscope is trained on flights and “screening,” the root cause languishes in the background. In reality, controlling global mobility by all modes, and developing a vaccine is the right strategy. But that sensible call to action seldom heard above the media uproar about air travel. Which only confirms for me what a very wise woman I know is wont to say: “We are a nation of idiots.”

So as Jimmy Buffet suggested, we might as well laugh about it while we can, or at least until someone finally (if ever) looks beyond air travel and focuses on a real containment strategy, plus a vaccine. Because as I’ve said, air travel is neither the problem nor the solution.

Meaningful action won’t come from the fumbling “government,” and it sure won’t be the hapless news media. But the joke’s on us until then.




39 Responses to “Air Travel and the Ebola Circus.”

  1. Good perspective on the long term solutions associated with the disease as well as the utterly pointless steps our government has taken to this point. One point you miss, however is that because of the virulent nature of this disease there should be immediate quarantining of anyone who has traveled through those countries where the outbreak is present. Show no symptoms and you’re free to enter.

  2. Bill Brandt Says:

    I would think the only real solution is to prohibit entry from anyone with passports from West Africa – and prohibit travel to West Africa – but that isn’t going to happen.

    • We should probably also prohibit travel to and from Dallas. Over one hundred people exposed. At the very least some restrictions need to be put on those people, but a travel ban to and from Dallas should also be considered, not to mention Berlin where there are several cases.

      • Bill Brandt Says:

        The time to do this is long gone – the cat is out of the bag. We have known about this for several years with no quarantine.

        Meanwhile we have “experts” contradicting themselves every few days on the nature of this disease. Even a President who said just a month or so ago that the chances of it coming here were slim.

        That’s reassuring.

  3. Just when you think it can’t get any more foolish
    Apparently the training didn’t include distinguishing between “Africa” and “South Africa”….it’s ok…we have the same trouble with Mexico and New Mexico…
    Love your take on this. Gold star – and Fresh Pressed worthy

    • Didn’t you know? Africa is a country. At least you’d think it from how most of us consider Africa as being one big land full of starving people who all have the same culture.

      • And a continent, right? Kind of like we refer to America as a country, but also as in “the Americas,” meaning both north and south. Mostly prosperous, largely obese, but varying culture.

  4. […] airline pilot blog, Ebola, passenger. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  5. Finest kind, as they say Down East. You are a man (and a writer) who, over the years, has made it crystal clear just how Right Stuff demanding it is to be an airline pilot, just how no-bullshit competent and technically ept you guys have to be.
    While being a surgeon requires some of the same, there are political and bureaucratic “realities” that don’t allow (yet) for the same sort of crisp medical and public health controls, competencies and discipline to be put to play. Like the BS about vaccination. My mother had polio and was almost totally paralyzed when I was one. You better believe we had all our shot when Salk and Sabin developed vaccines. Meanwhile, the CDC and the NIH have had their budgets cut drastically…perhaps because they’ve been too successful at making dread disease “just another thing of the past” . Jethead, have you ever had the front office come out with brain-dead penny-pinching and spread-sheet miracles that you feel endanger your work?

    • No, I have a Chief Pilot/VP-Flight who demands we do what’s right and backs us 110% when we do, no matter what that does to the spreadsheet. There’s really no other way to run a flying operation.

      • Of course…but that doesn’t always keep the corporate chowderheads from implementing their brainstorms. IBM which is pretty close to ruination, is a good example of what happens when a company is run by spreadsheet numbers for maximum management bonuses.

      • If IBM moved at 500 knots eight miles up, they wouldn’t use spreadsheet/bean counter priorities–or at least not for long.

      • Oh gravity works even for IBM, just as it did for GM

  6. I feel sorry for the airlines. They seem to be taking the blame for this ebola!

  7. Good, informative, Oh the media, it appears mostly intent on the “scare”. And, I’m still curious about that story of the carnival midway air-powered bb gun. Anyone think this through? (nine year old girl)
    Really good quotes. “We are a Nation of idiots” and several other perfectly stated thoughts.

  8. Welcome to the world of airplane paranoia. Would I fly if I did not have to. Hell no. I can not wait for the tzar of Ebola.

  9. Given government track records on vaccines and the carte blanche given manufactures to create one, I’m not sure that’s the best road to travel. Truth is, if we want to survive this problem, we have to find solutions that may not set well with the zero tolerance (aka zero common sense) crowd.

  10. Reblogged this on TwisterReed's Blog and commented:
    Yes, a chicken with is head cut off!

  11. I agree that “screening” at a handful of airports is not the answer, especially at the final destination where a potentially infected individual has already made it to this continent. I do feel that people coming from endemic areas should be restricted from traveling for the 3 weeks of incubation time or so. I would allow myself to be quarantined if it meant I would not be responsible for spreading a deadly virus.

  12. Grasping for words Says:

    I live approx 2.5 hours south of Dallas. What scares me is what you rightly said, we are a nation of idiots. More specifically, we are a nation of naive politicos. They are naive enough to think that this won’t spread because we’re the US. We have this under control (sure). And everything these days turns political. Nigeria was able to nip the Ebola in the bud by forgetting politics, and doing what needed to be done. Quarantine those affected and cut off the areas it came from. Problem solved. Over here, we’re too worried about playing the blame game. It gets ridiculous. What is also scary is that rumors spread because our media sucks at their jobs. There are rumors spreading that a cure was found, but it wasn’t found by DARPA, whom the govt loves, so it’s not being released. I hope this is a false rumor. It will be interesting to see how this whole thing pans out. Good article! Glad to see I’m not the only one with these thoughts.

  13. I live in West Africa, and have just travelled to East Africa and will return in a few days. In Ghana we have had NO cases of Ebola. Although we are in the midst of it all happening. All our news TV-stations are reporting 24/7 on Ebola. With many friends working all over West Africa, you can just imagine how we monitor the news events and our own travel itineraries. Yes we do all we can to protect ourselves, but surely it is a matter of time before it spreads all over the world, if not quarantined immediately.

    My family wants me to go travel back home, but at this rate, it has reached Australia, Spain, England, Germany and America. So infection spreads faster than expected. And the problem is that ALL OF WEST AFRICA is on HIGH Alert, but the rest of the world is thinking it’s SOME ONE ELSE’S problem, FAR AWAY and way too relaxed. I have washed and disinfected my hands at least 11 times today. Have you? We have actively started avoiding touching others when greeting or in day to day activities. Have you? I an up to date with those surrounding me – regarding their travel movements…are you?

    After Sept 11, even the smallest airport in Africa have implemented serious safety controls. Believe me – they just about strip search you and screen your luggage several times before even the smallest aircraft is boarded. So now with the Ebola treat, you can be assured of the same. When you realise thousands have died a horrible death within a matter of 10 days from showing symptoms, no precaution is considered too serious.

    A person who has Ebola but has no symptoms can’t spread the disease, either. Symptoms usually appear 8-10 days after infection, according to the CDC. WHO says lab tests of contaminated individuals find low white blood cell and platelet counts. Ebola only spreads when people are sick, the CDC says. A patient must have symptoms to spread the disease to others.

    After 21 days, if an exposed person does not develop symptoms, they will not become sick with Ebola, according to the CDC.

    Ebola can be spread to others only after symptoms have begun. Symptoms can appear from two to 21 days after exposure. There is currently no vaccine for the Ebola virus

  14. such a hot topic! Well done

  15. I agreed with every assessment you made. I especially like how the virus doesn’t live long without a host but the they are going to change the carpets etc of the plane the nurse was on (for show).
    I have simply begun to rely on my own assessment based on actions that are taking place. The news is ridiculous. I especially love how the two fella’s I wrote about on my blog were being interviewed by a journalist who basically said, “it is sad when two strippers use more common sense than the CDC”.

  16. And I thought airport security was bad enough…

  17. I love the comics, they make the right point.

    The situation currently is severe, anyway it is just silly to take uncoordinated measures like the one at JFK airport. That will neither help Americans nor anyone else and it won’t spread Ebola from spreading. Sadly “popular” measures are something that politicias really “love”, so we’ll most likely see more of these in the upcoming months… The problems meanwhile won’t be solved at all.

  18. Definitely good read, comics so true in their satire way. I like that. I find that first thing I do on fb each day is check trending ebola, why because i find the most amusing reads. While im on board for the wacky antics of the govt shuffle as they toss out their efforts into a meaningless heap, I also observe the well thought out strategies of people with brains. I don’t even need to open a paper site because I get the jest of all of what has gone on truth or lie. Up to me to come to my own conclusions.

    While something is fishy, about the lack of going to the root of the problem with USA, what about the other countries. Between all our countries, why isn’t there enough money to go quarantine off the areas its rampant? Just where is the donated money being used? How many scientists are looking for the cure or vaccine? I am not a biologist but every virus has a weak point, it mutates to stay alive, so weakening it over n over could be an answer. Even cancer has chances of being stopped and we know its just that the medical community wants our money so they do not offer the correct methods.

    At the moment I’m guessing that when it has thinned down some populations then miraculously there will be a vaccine that will prevent the spread and they can contain slowly. Well most people don’t even trust vaccines today.

    Another thought comes to mind while we wait to find out if the 800 people that are being watched from the Vinson fiasco flights, is that we all sit here for 21 days to see if CDC is wrong. (They insist chances are small that no one else will contract it from a flight with Vinson). Like those strippers that voluntarily shut themselves inside for 21 days, keep an eye on those guys huh? If even one person gets sick from that flight what then will we believe or be told? Boggles the mind.

  19. Reblogged this on miiikzz and commented:
    Great point of view.
    I wonder what our country (Philippines) would do if such case exist.

  20. Phil Avery Says:

    Chris, this is your best piece yet. Keep up the great work.

  21. I haven’t been on a plane since August, well before any of these scares, so I haven’t seen any of the increased screening for myself. I can just imagine, though. The moment officials issued these new procedures to the media I wondered how they could ignore ebola’s weeks-long incubation period. Or the fact that most flights from west Africa seem to connect through Europe. Hell, a five year-old kid could have found these holes in the new procedures. Maybe the government should have asked a five year-old kid whether their plan made sense before implementing it.

    Anyway, great article. I’ll follow your blog and read more of your posts assuming I don’t get ebola and die soon.

  22. I agree that the nation is over hyping ebola. Air travel is being blamed for ebola spreading even though the virus is difficult to spread.

  23. Exactly. The world is far too interconnected to simply cut off air travel and call it done. Love your take on the crisis.

  24. I wonder if the contagion is closer to the contagious properties of norovirus. There is a reason those people wear hazmat suits.

  25. I concur, we are a culture of idiots. But I don’t think it’s due to a lack of brains – I am referring to the term idiot as it was used in ancient Greek. Politicians for example. They are rarely stupid. If you can convince powerful friends that they want to have you where you want to end up, that is quite a feat in the arena of cunning. But it requires your first thought in every situation to be: “how can I capitalize on this while using as few resources as possible? “. It is one of the reasons why we have ended up with gesture politics, where nothing is really getting done, be it Ebola or ISIS. It’s like Soviet-Era patchwork engineering. If you’re restricted to it by a lack of resources, it’s better than nothing at all. But when the resources are abundant, it’s a bleeding shame.

  26. mustaphabarki2014 Says:

    Reblogged this on Engineer Marine Skipper.

  27. Okay Chris Manno! This is a young man I am very proud to have on me! Now these are funnies!

  28. Reblogged this on Kaleidoscope and commented:
    Well said….

  29. What astonishes me is how few cases we have had given the nation’s hysteria. As of today, the U.S. has had only 4 lab-confirmed cases of which only one person died and no one in that person’s family, even though they had close contact while he was symptomatic, got the disease. In the meantime, there are about 22 million cases of typhoid fever resulting in 220,000 deaths each year which is spread much more easily, yet no one seems to care. Astonishing.

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