In opening remarks at the US Chamber of Commerce's aviation summit in Washington, Secretary Ray LaHood said the international flu outbreak could stress an airline industry already reeling from a decline in traveler demand.
"We know this will be tough on commercial aviation, economically," LaHood said. "But the administration is not going to panic. We plan to listen to all the experts and take prudent measures to protect the health and safety of the traveling public."
His comments came as the World Health Organization raised its pandemic flu alert to level 5, the second highest level. A level 5 alert means there is a "substantial pandemic risk."
An elevated alert level could mean the WHO would issue travel advisories, as it did during the 2003 outbreak of SARS, warning against non-essential travel to affected areas, and possibly border closures. During the SARS outbreak, such advisories prompted a dramatic drop in travel.
LaHood said this afternoon he would not restrict travel to Mexico, and declined to comment on the WHO's plan to raise the alert level. In an email, David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association of America trade group, said a higher flu alert would not change the industry's plans.