Health

Airline industry, non-profits save lives with flights

Airbus Foundation

Courtesy Airbus Foundation

Airlines are reporting profits and being urged to join humanitarian efforts to help plug a $15 billion funding hole in global disaster relief.

The call comes on the heels of a United Nations report that found while at least $40 billion in annual humanitarian aid is needed annually to help victims of natural disasters and armed conflicts worldwide, today the world spends only $25 billion a year on securing and getting food, water, shelter, medical supplies, support teams and other emergency resources to people in need.

That’s twelve times the amount spent 15 years ago, the report notes. But with so many in need now, new disasters cropping up all the time and the high costs associated with rushing humanitarian relief to where it will do the most good, creative solutions are needed.

And that’s where alliances between airlines, aircraft manufactures and a variety of non-governmental organizations come in.

Through its foundation, aircraft manufacturer Airbus has been filling some otherwise empty, new aircraft being delivered to customers from its factories in Hamburg, Germany and Toulouse, France with humanitarian relief supplies destined for disaster-hit regions and communities in need.

“The flights are happening anyway and the pilots and the fuel are already paid for,” said
Airbus Foundation spokeswoman Deborah Waddon, “The NGOs arrange for the cargo, we make donations for the cost of the cargo, the loading is often done for free and the airlines cover just an incremental fuel cost for the extra cargo.”

Since 2008, airlines such as Emirates, JetBlue, South African Airways, Thai Airways, Vietnam Airlines and a handful of others have worked with Airbus on at least 30 delivery flights that have brought more than 250 tons of humanitarian relief to areas of Nepal, Columbia, Thailand, Africa and Haiti. On more than 15 occasions, Airbus has also used its test planes to deliver additional supplies quickly in the aftermath of disasters.

For example, a test aircraft loaded with 50 humanitarian staff and about 22 tons of food and medical aid flew to Nepal in 2015 after the devastating earthquake. And a Nepal Airlines aircraft delivery flight was used to transport more than five ton of relief goods and medical equipment to Kathmandu.

“Transporting supplies is one of our main expenses, so this way we can support more people,” said Olaug Bergseth, a senior officer for corporate partnerships with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, one of the NGOs that works closely with Airbus. “It’s faster, it’s more efficient and it’s cheaper.”

Courtesy Boeing

 

Through its Humanitarian Delivery Flight program, the Boeing Company also works with nonprofit and NGOs to load everything from medical supplies and clothing to educational materials into the empty cargo space of new airplanes for transport and delivery to areas of need.

Since 1992, Boeing’s program has made 180 humanitarian delivery flights, working with more than 50 airline customers to deliver more than 1.4 million pounds of supplies.

At least 26 of those humanitarian delivery flights have been on Ethiopian Airlines, which has also helped its neighbor, Somalia, by bringing back needed supplies.

“These flights have helped transform lives with their precious cargo,” said Bill McSherry, vice president of Government Operations at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Airlink worked with Avianca Airlines to get earthquake relief supplies to Ecuador

Courtesy Airlink

Delivery flights don’t always get relief supplies exactly where they need to go, so Boeing often teams up with Airlink, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit disaster relief organization that works with more than 35 airlines and more than 60 NGOs, to transport supplies and relief workers.

“We focus a lot on disaster response, but also on what you might call slow-burn events, such as an education program in Africa that is teaching children not to play with land mines and other remnants of war,” said Airlink Executive Director Steven Smith.

Smith notes that since more than 60 percent of humanitarian funding goes to supply chain costs, the transportation and coordination services airlines and Airlink provide can help NGOs stretch budgets and be more effective.

During the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, for example, Airlink sent healthcare workers and 100 shipments of aid for 37 different NGOs using 11 airlines.

And more recently, Airlink used donated miles and funds from Air Canada, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines to send 19 military veterans from Team Rubicon USA and Team Rubicon Canada to Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada to help out residents returning home after devastating wildfires destroyed more than 2,400 homes.

(My story about airline industry efforts to help save lives first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different form.)

 

MSP claims 1st airport chiropractic clinic

MSP CHIROPORT

Traveling puts a lot of stress on bodies and spas offering relaxing massages are now a welcome amenity at many airports.

But Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport now has a new service for aching muscles, sore backs and cricked necks: an in-airport chiropractic clinic.

The Chiroport (get it?), on Concourse C, near Gate 12, opened in April 2016 and offers walk-up service – although you can text “chiromsp” at 612-294-7739 and find out how long you’d need to wait to be seen.

Chiroport image

The cost for an exam, muscle work and a full spine adjustment is $39. Insurance is not accepted, but customers may use HSA and SFA savings accounts or a major credit card to pay.

Airports vs. the Zika virus

At Fort Lauderdale, Zika virus information is on display screens, right nex to the flight information screens_courtesy FLL Airport

My most recent “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY takes a look at how airports are working to educate travelers about the Zika virus – and make sure airport grounds don’t become another breeding ground for the virus.

Shops and newsstands, including those run by the Hudson Group in Chicago O’Hare, Seattle-Tacoma and Orlando International Airports, are making sure to carry several brands of insect repellant, including OFF! Deep Woods and Cutter.

At Miami International Airport, an advisory (in English and Spanish) from the Centers for Disease Control is on display in passport clearance areas and airport employees have been issued cards instructing them how to recognize and respond to passengers with communicable diseases, including Zika.

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Zika prevention messages from the CDC (in English and Spanish) are front and center right next to many flight display screens.

And at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, signs have been placed throughout the airport, at the U.S. Customs area and in Baggage claim alerting travelers about the Zika virus and offering tips on protection and prevention measures. The airport has also made sure EPA-registered insect repellents are available for purchase in airport newsstands.

Orlando International Airport and both airports in Houston have Zika virus plans in place as well.

“Working in conjunction with our community partners, we feel these steps are not only appropriate but necessary to demonstrate our efforts at protecting our passengers and employees,” Orlando International said in a statement that outlined its plan.

ZIKA_Airport_sign from Houston

And, among the strategies in place at the Houston airports are reminders to employees of the “4 D’s”: Drain (eliminate standing water); Dress (wear long sleeves, pants and socks); Dusk/Dawn (avoid these peak mosquito times) and DEET (use proper repellants).

What else do you need to know if you are heading somewhere where cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed?

“Bring plenty of mosquito repellent, long shirts and pants, and a full-coverage hat,” advises Julia Cosgrove, AFAR’s editor in chief. “Avoid areas where there’s standing water. And, if you are on the coast, stay close to the beach where there’s wind and relatively few mosquitoes.”

Zika virus & business travel policies

The news about the Zika virus just keeps getting worse.

Infographic: The Spread Of The Zika Virus | Statista

Researchers are predicting which U.S. airports are most likely to begin seeing arriving passengers infected with the virus (Texas and Florida top the list) and companies of all sizes are trying to figure out what to do about holding events in other countries and sending employees out on the road now that there are 30 countries and territories around the world where the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been found.

Here’s one of the Zika & Travel stories I put together for NBCNews.com:

Fit & Fly Girl, a two-employee company, has a luxury retreat scheduled soon in Costa Rica, which the Centers for Disease Control recently added to the list of countries where travelers risk being infected the Zika virus.

“To our knowledge, none of the women who will be attending the retreat are pregnant,” said company founder Rebecca Garland, but she’s trying to decide whether its best to just pass along the CDC’s advice about covering up and wearing insect repellent, to tell women who might be pregnant to stay home or to just cancel the event altogether.

Much larger companies, such as Chevron, with more than 64,000 employees around the world, are also closely monitoring the fast-changing news about the Zika virus and alerting employees about their options.

“Chevron’s practice is to allow employees with travel-related health concerns to discuss these with their doctor, and if medically indicated, to opt out of planned business travel,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Right now, International SOS, a company that provides emergency and support services for international travelers, is advising its more than 10,000 corporate clients around the world to adhere to the CDC guidelines, “which are very dynamic and evolving,” said Robert Quigley, the company’s senior vice-president.

And while some companies are offering employees the opportunity to decline business travel with no questions asked, Quigley said “many clients are asking us ‘What is everyone else doing?’ They don’t want to make a decision until they know what the benchmark is.”

The CDC will likely come out with more recommendations and further advisories regarding travel and the Zika virus but, in the meantime, the U.S. military is taking action and offering pregnant family members of active-duty personnel and civilian Defense Department employees the option to relocate away from areas affected by the Zika virus.

“It’s ironic,” said Quigley, “Typically its corporate American that sets the tone and the government lags behind. But in this case it’s the government that has stepped up.”

Many companies with systems already in place to alert employees to precautions they should be taking while traveling are taking the Zika virus alerts in stride, said Tim MacDonald, Executive Vice President of Travel at Concur.

“The Zika virus news is fast-moving, but in many ways it is no different than other risks, including terrorist threats, that many companies face with respect to travel,” he said. “The typical best practice is to make sure employees are aware of the risk, let them know the precautions and encourage them to delay travel if they are at risk.”

Some universities around the country have adopted a similar approach to assessing travel risks.

The University of Wisconsin spends approximately $130 million a year on travel across its 26 campuses and requires employees, students and guests that travel on university-sponsored business to book through a dedicated tool.

“One of the reasons we do this is to identify where our travelers intend to go and then alert them and appropriate management in the event of health issues or travel warnings,” said Terri Gill, ‎the university’s system-wide travel and expense manager.

Plans that involve travel to areas where the Zika virus (and Ebola) have been reported are being reviewed by the university’s risk management offices and health services operations and some travelers are being counseled to delay or cancel their plans.

While keeping everyone safe is most important, the precautions can come with a price tag, said Gill, “If we’re not able to fulfill educational or research plans, then it’s a detriment as well.”

Hotels getting hacked + CDC Zika virus alert

sleeping on airplanes

Two stories I worked on for NBC News this week are tied to news about extra precautions travelers need to take while on the road.

For a story about hotels where data breaches and data-stealing malware have put guests’ credit card and other important information at risk, I talked to data security experts and checked up on what major chains, including Hyatt, Hilton , Starwood, Mandarin Oriental, Trump and others were doing to find and put a stop to the hacking.

Two babies

And in this story about the CDC’s travel alert about the Zika virus, I explored just the beginnings of the toll the tourism industry may take from advisories urging pregnant women and those hoping to be pregnant to take avoid traveling to areas of Latin America and The Caribbean where the virus has been spreading.

Health officials aren’t yet sure why, but believe the Zika virus can cause a catastrophic birth defect called microcephaly.