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Already pummeled by recession, airlines now must deal with concerns about flu

Airplanes themselves are safe, experts say, but flights to Mexico have been cut. Drug cartel violence is an issue too.

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Airlines are slashing flights and fares to Mexico as swine flu depresses demand for travel to the land of Mayans and Mariachis.

At the same time, President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address Saturday to explain the extraordinary level of precautions the nation is taking for a flu that, thus far, appears in the United States to be no more dangerous than the annual variety.

"This is a new strain of the flu virus, and because we haven't developed an immunity to it, it has more potential to cause us harm," he said. "I would sooner take action now than hesitate and face graver consequences later."

The president said that's why he's asking schools with confirmed cases to close for as long as 14 days and for businesses to allow employees who may be exhibiting symptoms to take as many days off as needed.

"We have asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick," he said.

But there was one thing the President did not do: mention Vice President Joe Biden's gaffe Thursday when he recommended against air travel.

That infuriated the airlines because it contradicted the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which simply suggested Americans avoid "unnecessary travel" to Mexico. The CDC said nothing about regular air travel, which is generally regarded as safe because of sophisticated air filtration systems in modern planes.

But another reason for the airlines' outrage is their current fragile financial state. They can't afford to lose any more revenue, particularly based on unfounded fears.

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