Airports That Could Make Travelers Sick

Air travel makes it possible for people to move around the globe with ease these days – but the same holds true for diseases – including 2009’s devastating H1N1 virus pandemic (and see more on that below).

You’re Sick but Must Catch that Plane

MIT: 8 Airports That ‘Influence’ Contagion

Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a model that examines U.S. airports to help predict where and how fast disease can spread.

According to the MIT findings, these are the top airports ranked most influential in terms of spreading a contagious disease if one were to originate in the airports’ home cities:

  1. JFK (New York)
  2. Los Angeles (LAX)
  3. Honolulu
  4. San Francisco
  5. Newark
  6. Chicago O’Hare
  7. Washington Dulles
  8. Atlanta

Sometimes Looking Sick Can Get You Thrown Off a Plane

Unlike other models – which studied the spread of diseases at the end stages – the MIT study focused on the start of a pandemic and investigated factors such as “travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports.”

Why Honolulu Ranks High

The study explains that while Honolulu only has about a third as much traffic as JFK, it ranks high on the list because of its Pacific location plus “its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs.”

Air Travel and 2009’s Flu Outbreak

Just three short years ago, travelers were getting dire warnings about the spread of the H1N1 virus (originally called swine flu), a pandemic that ultimately killed about 300,000 people worldwide. Airlines ratcheted up precautions which included bumping passengers who were sick and even those who merely “looked” ill.

One of the ultimate goals of the MIT study is reportedly to “pave the way” for new strategies to minimize the impact of future pandemics and contain disease outbreaks in the early stages.


Published: July 26, 2012