Just in case we haven't taken absolutely all the pleasure out of flying, there are plenty of fearmongers to help us see the folly of our unconcern.
Respiratory illnesses typically spread via airborne and droplet routes. Airborne transmission involves tiny particles containing pathogens that can remain suspended in the air for prolonged periods of time. Tuberculosis typically spreads by this method. Droplet spread involves larger particles that quickly settle out of the air. Some diseases (SARS and influenza among them) can spread by both routes.And the solution?
Some pathogens (the influenza virus, for example) can also exist on nonporous surfaces for hours. Theoretically, people don't even need to sit near an infected individual to be exposed. Touching contaminated surfaces such as door handles, window covers, and faucets and then later touching a mucous membrane (eyes, etc.), can lead to inadvertent exposure. This is why quarantine during an influenza pandemic won't work. Quarantine involves separating out healthy people who have been potentially exposed to the illness. For influenza, people can be exposed and not know it. [More hysteria]
People flying with upper respiratory tract infections who cough and sneeze could be offered face masks out of courtesy to fellow passengers. Aircraft could keep a supply of them on board for this purpose. I used to keep a little bottle of 60 percent alcohol-based hand gel in my purse for flights until a crack down on security prohibited carrying bottles of liquids and gels on board. I would squirt a glob into my hand and rub my hands together vigorously after touching bathroom door handles or window shades. Airlines could offer such gels to passengers--especially since not everyone washes their hands regularly.
At a national level, nations have an obligation to make sure that their citizens don't spread disease. International travelers should be required to show proof of vaccination against diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, and pertussis, and proof of a negative tuberculosis skin test (or documentation of noninfectiousness in the event of a positive skin test) when applying for passports. People who travel frequently to high-risk areas should be required to document yearly tuberculosis skin tests before flying.
And if that isn't far enough over the top, maybe we should reconsider the disease risk outrage known as the "handshake".
My proposed substitute is the "virtual handshake." I explain that I'm sick, and suggest that we pretend to shake hands from two feet away. Sound good?
It does to other economists, confirming my view that we are models of good sense and common decency. But the rest of the world reacts poorly - so poorly that I've given up offering them my virtual hand in friendship. [More]
Of course, there is another less obvious solution: if you can't take the germs, don't board the plane. Take the time to travel in your hermetically sealed SUV or whatever. Sounds harsh, but I fly through O'Hare and I'm ready to weed out the weak.