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Airlines Waive Change Fees Amid Swine Flu Outbreak

Multiple airlines are waiving change fees for passengers flying through Mexico because of an outbreak of swine flu but have not canceled flights.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines said Sunday it will waive its usual penalty for changing reservations for anyone traveling to, from or through Mexico from Saturday through May 6. It applies to anyone who bought their ticket before Saturday.

American spokesman Tim Smith wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the airline's medical department is "closely monitoring the situation." The airline has not canceled any flights because of swine flu, he said.

Click here for more about the swine flu.

Smith also wrote that American has received "a few calls from customers ... but not huge numbers of them (are) seeking changes or information so far."

Mexico's health minister said swine flu has killed up to 86 people and likely sickened up to 1,400 since April 13.

U.S. health officials declared a public health emergency Sunday, saying 20 swine flu cases have been reported so far in New York, Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California, primarily linked to recent travel to Mexico. Canada became the third country to confirm human cases of swine flu Sunday and multiple nations including New Zealand and Spain also suspect infection. Some are moving to quarantine travelers from affected regions and advising their citizens to postpone travel to certain areas in Mexico.

U.S. officials said they will begin asking travelers about illness if they're entering the country from regions with confirmed swine flu.

In a statement on its Web site, Grupo Mexicana said that in light of statements by Mexican health authorities, international passengers traveling to Mexico City, or those who are required to catch connecting flights at the Mexico City airport, may reschedule their flights and/or travel dates at no extra charge.

Mexicana passengers must be scheduled to travel between April 24 and April 30.

Chicago-based United Airlines also issued a travel waiver due to the Mexico City swine flu outbreak. On its Web site, United said passengers who purchased tickets on or before Saturday, April 26 for travel through April 30 may change their plans without incurring a penalty.

Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. is offering to waive change fees for passengers traveling to, from or through Mexico City, Puebla and Toluca, Mexico between April 26 and April 28. Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group Inc. and Air Canada are waiving change fees for customers with Mexico City travel plans through April 30.

Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport spokesman David Magana said the airport is experiencing normal operations. Airport officials are "working closely with airlines and with local, state and federal health and emergency management agencies to monitor and assess the situation," he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Los Angeles World Airports officials also said Sunday that "reasonable" precautions are being taken at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to prevent swine flu infection. There are several airlines at LAX that operate a total of 45 daily flights to and from several destinations in Mexico.

In an e-mailed statement, airport officials said custodians are paying special attention to sanitizing door knobs, handrails and faucets in restrooms in LAX

s five terminals where incoming international flights are processed. Signs with tips on preventing the spread of illnesses are being re-posted.

But AeroMexico ticket counter agents at LAX said they were given no special instructions regarding the flu outbreak.

A spokesman for The Greater Toronto Airports Authority said that for now, it isn't screening passengers returning from vacations or business in Mexico at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. But GTAA spokeswoman Trish Krale said emergency workers were taking extra precautions by wearing masks and gloves when responding to any ill passenger who had been in Mexico in the past couple of weeks.

Separately, Michael Sheehan, a spokesman for cruise ship operator Royal Caribbean, said the company is closely monitoring the situation, and has not altered any sailings. Royal Caribbean operates a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise out of Los Angeles, with stops at Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

Cabo San Lucas is located in Baja California, where swine flu cases have been confirmed. Health officials in the state of Jalisco, in which Puerto Vallarta is located, have no confirmed cases but said Saturday they identified 18 people with flu-like symptoms who may be infected and are awaiting test results.