Germs on a Plane!: Legal Protections Afforded to International Air Travelers and Governments in the Event of a Suspected or Actual Contagious Passenger and Proposals to Strengthen Them

Article excerpt

       A. Infectious Diseases and Air Travl
          1. Infectious Diseases of Documented
          2. Other Diseases to be Considered
             As a Threat in Air Travel
       B. Legal Background.
          1. International Health Regulations
          2. Regional Organizations
          3. Applicable Diplomatic Protocols and
       A. Background Information on the Tuberculosis
          Traveler Incident
       B. Implications and Suggestions
       A. Scenarios
       B. Implications and Suggestions


In August 2006, American moviegoers watched as passengers on an airplane were terrified by poisonous snakes in the movie "Snakes on a Plane." (1) In May 2007, news watchers across the globe were riveted by the true story of an Atlanta lawyer who flew from the United States to several destinations in Europe while carrying a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. (2) This event prompted a public outcry against the actions of the "tuberculosis traveler," (3) who failed to heed the warnings of various local, state, and federal officials. However, the implications of the tuberculosis incident reverberated throughout the aviation, legal, and medical communities in a way in which fictional killer snakes cannot. While few travelers might like to ponder it, germs on a plane, and associated issues immediately after disembarking, are a more realistic, if less glamorous, threat to the flying public than a Hollywood created movie. Although travelers are offered some measure of protection from illness through the terms of the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations ("IHR") (4) and the actions of governments and air carriers, (5) the tuberculosis traveler incident illustrates that there are several areas where travelers are protected by neither law nor medicine.

This article examines two issues which were highlighted by the tuberculosis traveler incident and its aftermath: 1) the effectiveness of the current legal regimes in international law in stopping the health threat posed by individual carriers of communicable diseases who attempt to travel on an aircraft and 2) the legal standards--or lack thereof--applicable to international travelers when their course of travel is interrupted because they are deemed to constitute a threat to public health by the nation to which they are traveling or at an intermediate point during their travels. Part II of this article describes the various applicable international law regimes and provisions which govern air travel and the identification, handling, and procedures to be used in the event of a suspected or confirmed outbreak of infectious disease. (6) This Part also discusses the forms of infectious disease which concern public health experts. And, several of the infectious diseases which pose a prescient threat to air travelers, yet; are not contemplated in the international law regimes applicable to public health or air travel. (7)

Part III of this article discusses the issue of protecting travelers, and the global population at large, from infectious disease based threats posed by individual travelers who are carrying a disease at the time of their travels. (8) In this Part, the author advocates the creation of a public health-based do-not-fly list akin to the terror based do-not-fly list currently used by the American government to ensure that travelers who pose a threat to public health do not board aircraft or engage in air travel until their health status can be confirmed, or they are deemed to be no longer contagious to the general public. (9) It is the author's belief that Interpol's effective use of such a list to track criminals around the globe serves as a better model per se than the American do-not-fly list. When used properly, a public health-based list is cost effective, a better preservation of the rights of travelers, and poses fewer legal issues at home and abroad than does the current vacuum of legality and procedure in this particular area. …


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