Airline stocks close down after first U.S. Ebola case confirmed

Airlines, medical experts say travelers cannot contract Ebola just by flying with an infected person

Shares of major airlines slid Wednesday in the wake of news that an air traveler from Africa to the U.S. had been diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus.

Although airline and medical experts emphasize that travelers cannot contract Ebola merely by flying in the same cabin as an infected person, several financial analysts said fear of the disease could discourage some Americans from traveling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Tuesday that a man who flew from Liberia to Texas to visit family tested positive for Ebola. The agency did not disclose on which airline he flew.

Shares of United Continental Holdings, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines each closed down about 3% as the broader market fell more than 1%. Southwest only recently began to fly outside the U.S., to Caribbean destinations.

“People are nervous about the stock market in general,” said Jan Brueckner, an economics professor at UC Irvine, downplaying the impact of the Ebola scare on airline stocks.

The trade group for the nation's largest carriers issued a statement Wednesday noting that health officials have determined that the disease cannot be spread through the air.

The group, Airlines for America, said its members are in "steady contact with government agencies and health officials, and have procedures in place to monitor and quickly respond to potential health concerns."

The U.S. Department of Transportation allows airlines to bar travelers with serious contagious diseases that could spread during flight.

The CDC has said that the air in newer airplanes is cleaner than most people assume because up to half of cabin air is recirculated with outside air and passes through a series of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters up to 30 times per hour.

"As a result, the air cabin environment is not conducive to the spread of most infectious diseases," the agency says on its website.

Los Angeles International Airport is one of the three busiest international ports of entry in the nation but does not serve any direct flights from Africa, according to airport officials.

For several years, the CDC has operated an isolation unit at LAX where sick passengers are held and tested before being allowed to board a plane or leave the airport.

The Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued a statement Tuesday, saying it was working with the CDC to monitor passengers at LAX travelers and identify any travelers who may be infected with the disease.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


2:02 p.m.: This post has been updated with airlines' closing stock prices.

11:51 a.m.: This post has been updated with comments from Los Angeles International Airport officials.

This post was originally published at 11:25 a.m.