Do sick travelers have more rights than healthy ones?

If you’re sick, stay home.

Unless you’re about to go on vacation. Then it’s OK to infect the rest of us.

That’s an almost fair statement, given the Ebola-infected nurse who flew from Cleveland to Dallas and the recent mandatory quarantines in New York and New Jersey.

You have to ask yourself: Why are these people even thinking of traveling?

Staying home and getting well would be a no-brainer in any other context. Yet the travel industry actually encourages customers to climb on-board when they’re sick. It does little to protect healthy travelers from contracting illnesses. And that begs the question: Do the sick have more “rights” than the well, when it comes to travel?

Let’s take a look at some policies and procedures of cruise line, airline, hotel, taxi and car rental companies and then you can decide for yourselves.

Airlines. Recently, several airlines have issued statements that if you have come into contact with the Ebola virus and are symptomatic they will refund you the cost of your ticket. But what if you have a milder and less life-threatening illness like Norwalk or influenza? Sorry, a doctor’s note isn’t enough to get your money back. You have to show up at the gate and the agent must deem you too sick to travel, then deny you boarding before you can get a refund. How many people might you have infected by then? Anyone ever become sick after a flight? I think you know the answer.

Cruise lines. Very few people cruise alone. This adds an additional layer of pressure for an ill passenger to suck it up and travel no matter how bad they feel. Like airline policy, your cruise line may demand that you show up prior to embarkation. And if you’ve ever cruised before, you know what that line looks like. It’s a crowd. Before you’re allowed on board, an agent will question you about your recent health. Here’s the agent’s quandary: If the agent deems you unfit to travel they will likely need to refund you and your group. Does the agent really want to be the person of record for issuing the refunds due to a tummyache that could be the Norovirus? The reality is, if you keep a stiff upper lip, the agent might miss the signs of poor health and allow you and your group aboard. After all, the airline just let you fly sick to get to the cruise ship – why not get onboard at this point?

Car rentals and taxis. For some companies, it’s not the travel policy, but the lack of a good hygiene procedure that allows disease to spread. Have you ever seen a cab driver jump out from behind the wheel to wipe down the back seat with disinfectant wipes before taking another fare? Neither have I. I know some private carriers and limousine services follow a procedure after each ride. And what about your rental car? Yeah, I don’t know what the heck they do to keep those vehicles clean either. Whatever it is, it doesn’t take long. And there doesn’t seem to be an industry standard. In the past I’ve found earrings, brochures and remnant food items in my rental. Let’s just say I don’t rent from those guys anymore.

Hotels. While we’re at it, let’s have a frank discussion about the lodging industry. Do not assume that because you’re at an expensive hotel your room is cleaner than a budget one. The germiest spot in your hotel room is the remote control. If you don’t watch TV, you’ve got little to worry about. For the other 99.8 percent, you might want to use a disinfectant wipe before grabbing the remote. You don’t even want to know what they’ve found on that ubiquitous device. Also, try not to use your fingers or hand when pushing elevator buttons, because that’s another item used by just about everyone in the hotel. Other items you should inspect before using include any cups, silverware or dishes. And don’t ever use a glass in a hotel room – it’s washed in the sink with the same gloves that just cleaned your toilet most times!

Restaurants. If you think you are sick you have absolutely no business hitting the buffet. I don’t care if it’s included on your cruise or hotel stay – don’t go there. I’ve seen people rub their eyes then reach for an apple. I’ve encountered folks coughing into their hands and then grabbing sugar packets and creamers. Worst of all I’ve seen kids blow their nose then touch multiple slices of bread. Where were their parents?

I will admit that when visiting Alberta, Canada, my son experienced altitude sickness. Though it isn’t a contagious illness, we were uncertain at the time about the cause. Between his slightly elevated fever and lack of energy, it was hard to know what ailed him. We chose to remain in Canada an extra three days, extending our stay at the hotel until his fever broke. Fortunately we had travel insurance to help cover doctor’s bills and assist with itinerary changes.

Not everyone is so lucky.

It’s amazing that the media doesn’t write more about this subject. But it seems it takes a boatload of sick passengers to attract their attention.

I don’t really care if it’s discrimination to seat healthy travelers separately from sick ones or to deny people boarding privileges. I just know that it’s an issue that affects anyone who leaves their home and that the industry policies and procedures are a little “sick.”

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