"It is our humanitarian duty to operate there"
Several major airlines including British Airways and Emirates have suspended service to Ebola-stricken regions of West Africa in response to a rapidly worsening Ebola outbreak, and Americans seem to agree with the service halts: 58% of people polled in a recent survey from NBC News want to ban all incoming flights from West African countries with Ebola.
But two airlines—Brussels and Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s largest airline—have continued serving Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Brussels Airlines says it has no plans to stop flying into Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia in the immediate future. “It is our humanitarian duty to operate there,” said Geert Sciot, a vice president at Brussels Airlines. “Without our fights it would become almost impossible for medical staff to reach the country.”
In recent days, health and governmental officials have warned that a shortage of flights limits the ability to get aid to the region and ultimately could worsen the global Ebola crisis.
Sciot, who said that the airline has made flights to Africa a focus of their service for decades, said that the World Health Organization and other health groups had directly asked senior airline leadership to continue service to West Africa. Health groups also partnered with Brussels Airlines to implement measures to ensure safety for the passengers and crew.
All passengers leaving the region have their temperatures taken and are screened with a questionnaire; patients with Ebola symptoms are not allowed to fly. Airline crew are not permitted to spend the night in at-risk locations, so they travel on a Brussels flight to Senegal when they need to stay overnight in West Africa.
“It’s absolutely safe for us as an airline, for our passengers and for our crew, to operate these flights,” said Sciot.
Despite conducting what he described as a public service, Sciot acknowledged the potential fallout from people who are concerned that flying to West Africa may help spread Ebola.
Part of that attention undoubtedly surrounded the death of Thomas Eric Duncan, the only person to die of Ebola on American soil. Duncan flew on Brussels Airlines from Liberia en route the United States before exhibiting symptoms of the disease.
Sciot said that compared to last year, about the same number of people fly on the route and revenue is comparable, though there is a wait list for cargo space.
“For our image, I don’t think we benefit from this at all,” he said. “We get a lot media requests linked to a disease.”