Reality Check: Is an Ebola Flight Ban a Good Idea? Nate Silver Doesn’t Think So

editor-commen-deskIt’s exceedingly rare that I agree with an Obama administration decision (though the decision is infirm, and could be weaseled any way the wind blows over the next several weeks) but the increasing calls to impose an Africa travel ban strike me as reflexive, not founded on proven disease strategy. Unlike a lot of bellyaching conservatives, and a handful of election-panicked Democrats, I’m not convinced that declining to respond to pressure to impose a travel ban is a bad thing. And I don’t think it’s motivated purely by narrow political or economic interests. That said, I don’t claim to be informed enough to have a clear opinion either way. So this morning I saw this, and thought it might be useful reading.

ebola-micro

Nate Silver writes:

On Sept. 19, Thomas Eric Duncan boarded a flight in Monrovia, Liberia, possibly after having lied on a screening questionnaire about his contact with persons carrying the Ebola virus. The next day, Duncan arrived in Dallas to visit his fiancée and son. Initially complaining of a fever, Duncan would soon become the first person in the United States diagnosed with Ebola. Before dying of the disease on Oct. 8, Duncan would transmit it to two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who treated him at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital.

isolate30n-3-web

Duncan’s case has sparked calls to ban flights to the United States from the countries hardest hit by the recent Ebola outbreak — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — possibly along with others in West Africa. While some of these APPROVED-non-stop-panicarguments have been measured, others seem to convey the impression there are thousands of passengers arriving in cities like Dallas each day from flights originating in these countries.

There aren’t. We searched on Kayak.comExpertFlyer.com and airline websites for direct flights from West African nations (as the United Nations defines the region) to destinations outside the African continent. Specifically, we looked for flights available for the week from Jan. 2 to Jan. 8, 2015, a time period far enough in advance that such flights are unlikely to have sold out.

There are no regularly scheduled direct flights to the U.S. from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone — and very few from other countries in West Africa. There are far more flights from West Africa to Western Europe instead. Duncan’s case was typical. Before arriving in the United States, he connected through Brussels.

Here are all the routes we identified:

silver-west-africa-flight-map

Our search may be missing a few flights here and there, but it ought to be reasonably comprehensive, especially for travel to and from the United States. We found a total of 358 direct flights available for booking that week. Of these, only 37 were to the U.S. They include the following six routes:

  • United Airlines flies daily from Dakar, Senegal, to Washington Dulles.
  • South African Airways flies daily from Dakar to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
  • Delta Airlines flies daily from Accra, Ghana, to JFK.
  • Delta flies daily from Lagos, Nigeria, to Atlanta.
  • United flies six days a week from Lagos to Houston.
  • Arik Air, a Nigerian carrier, flies three days a week from Lagos to JFK.

By contrast, there are hundreds of flights per week to Western Europe from these countries. Paris is the top destination, with a total of 79 flights per week (counting flights on one route that is currently suspended but which may become available again by January). London has 43 weekly flights (again, counting one suspended route). Brussels and Frankfurt have 26 each….

(read more)

FiveThirtyEight


One Comment on “Reality Check: Is an Ebola Flight Ban a Good Idea? Nate Silver Doesn’t Think So”

  1. […] The Butcher It’s exceedingly rare that I agree with an Obama administration decision (though the decision […]


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