Travel Notes: Keeping contagious diseases off flights

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More than 70 passengers on a US Airways Express plane were recently surprised to see police and paramedics board the jet in Phoenix and announce that a fellow flier might have the contagious airborne disease tuberculosis.

Further tests by the Maricopa County Public Health Department in Phoenix determined a few days later that the passenger was not infected with TB.

But don't fret. It is extremely rare for a passenger with a highly contagious disease to board a commercial plane, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local health officials alert the CDC about people with highly contagious diseases, and the center notifies the Transportation Security Administration, which adds those names to a "do-not-board" list. It is similar to the "no-fly" list used to keep potential terrorists off commercial jets.

The US Airways Express passenger was apparently added to the do-not-board list after he already got on the plane.

It was the first time TSA officials say they can recall a passenger being added to the list after getting on a plane.

Since May 2007, 314 people have been put on the do-not-board list, and only 68 people are currently on the list, according to CDC spokesman Benjamin N. Haynes.

Here's how the process works: If you are on a plane, seated within four to seven seats of an infected passenger, the CDC will contact you, using the flight's manifest to identify who has been exposed. How many passengers are contacted depends on the disease, how it spreads and where the infected passenger was seated, according to the CDC.

Passengers are added to the do-not-board list if they have one of nine contagious diseases: tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria, plague, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fever, SARS or a flu that can cause a pandemic.

The process makes it very difficult for infected fliers to get on a plane, Mr. Haynes said.

Hotel tipping

The debate on what to tip a hotel chamber maid was part of a classic "Seinfeld" episode from the 1990s.

Now the American Hotel & Lodging Association is putting an end to the debate. The group recommends a tip of $1 to $5 a night, left in a marked envelope.

For a concierge, tip $5 to $10 depending on the service offered, the group said. If you ask a hotel staff to bring something extra to your room, such as a blanket, tip at least $4.

But no tip is required, the association says, if you ask staff to come to your room to fix a leaky sink or broken television or to replace a missing item.

TSA precheck lines

At more than 100 airports across the country, you get a chance to go through a special screening line without having to remove your shoes, belt or coat, and you can keep your computer in its carry-on bag.

But getting selected to use the Transportation Security Administration's so called PreCheck lines is never guaranteed, even if you meet all of TSA's conditions. That is because the TSA randomly removes a number of qualified passengers to prevent terrorists from gaming the system.

How can you improve your chances of getting picked to use the PreCheck lines?

The TSA's blog says travelers could be excluded from PreCheck if they enter the wrong information when booking a flight. Even a wrong date of birth or middle initial could exclude you from PreCheck.

TSA officials also confirmed that your chances of getting selected for the PreCheck lines are higher if you apply through one of three U.S. Customs and Border Patrol's trusted traveler programs (Global Entry, Nexus and Sentri).

The other way to apply for PreCheck is through a loyalty rewards program from one of these airlines: JetBlue, Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Southwest, United and Virgin America.

But the TSA randomly excludes fewer travelers who enroll through the border patrol programs because they require fliers to submit more background information, such as fingerprints, compared with travelers who enroll through loyalty reward programs, according to TSA officials.

A third way to sign up for the program is scheduled to launch soon as the TSA plans to open up to 100 enrollment offices across the country by the end of the year.


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