As health officials tried to calm nervous New Yorkers about the few cases of mild swine flu discovered at St. Francis Prep, travel agencies began to handle phone calls from nervous tourists.
“Since Sunday people have been calling to see what they can do and if the airlines are offering credits to change one’s flight,” Maria Luisa Bravo, the supervisor at Delgado Travel’s main office on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, told The Queens Courier on Tuesday, April 28. “About 70 percent of our call volume has involved these types of questions.”
The outbreak of swine flu, a respiratory influenza virus that has so far caused 149 deaths in Mexico and about 50 mild cases in the United States, has caused another blow to a travel industry already besieged by a slowdown in travel due to consumers tightening their purse strings. In particular, tourism to Mexico, which has suffered a drop due to a recent travel State Department advisory because of the warring drug cartels, could now be doubly affected as tourists decide to vacation someplace else.
According to a statement by the Mexican Consulate in New York there has been “permanent and direct communication with the Mexican community in the tri-state area.” The statement added that the Mexican federal government has taken “punctual measure to contain and combat the flu outbreak and has been working with local and state authorities in the country.”
These assurances, however, have not quelled the concerns of local travelers.
“Of the number of calls, about 20 percent have changed their flights and most of the travelers are not Mexican,” said Bravo, who added that the changes were not for a later date but an entirely new destination. “However, those Mexicans who called just wanted to know if their airlines were flying. They were going to fly anyways.”
However, Bravo worried that her clients could be adversely affected if the airlines did not change the time limit for when the postponed travel must take place. Bravo said that the airlines only allowed flights to Mexico be postponed for about a week.
An American Airline official confirmed that the airline would honor flights before Wednesday, May 6 and, after that date, the usual fee for rescheduling a flight between the U.S. and Mexico, which is $150, would apply.
But the official also told The Queens Courier that “right now we are looking at a situation that is still developing. As more information becomes available and decisions by authorities are made, American Airlines will act reasonably on behalf of passengers in lieu of what current advisories are.”
And since 28 cases have been identified in New York and 17 cases are still being examined, New York could also feel the repercussions of a slowdown in tourism.
In reaction to a warning by the European Health Commission suggesting that Europeans not to fly to New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “We don’t think there’s any reason to not travel and come to New York.”
He reiterated that “on the ground there is an outbreak of influenza in one school.”
Click here to read about how Corona Mexicans are reacting to the swine flu.