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The Takeaway: 10 Airports Most Likely to Spread Disease (You Might Be Surprised)

In the event of some terrible outbreak — SARS, “swine flu,” whatever it was Gwyneth Paltrow got at the beginning of Contagion — the airports most likely to spread disease aren’t necessarily the biggest or the busiest, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) looked at 40 American airports to determine which pose the greatest threat should an outbreak occur in the cities they serve. When things like the airports’ geographic locations, interactions between airports, passengers’ travel patterns and average waiting times were factored in, airports big and small stood out.

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Unsurprisingly, New York’s John F. Kennedy International  Airport (JFK) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were first and second on the threat list. But taking third place was Honolulu International Airport, which only carries a third as much traffic as JFK.

Classical measures of centrality, such as total traffic or connectivity, would suggest that Atlanta International airport (ATL) would have the largest spreading ability,” the authors note.

But Atlanta actually ranks 8th in terms of spreading power. And the Washington Dulles International Airport — about 40 minutes outside of D.C. in northern Virginia — turned out to have more threat potential than the more centrally located Reagan National Airport.

10 Airports Most Likely To Spread Disease

  1. JFK
  2. LAX
  3. Honolulu International Airport
  4. San Francisco International Airport
  5. Newark Liberty International Airport (New Jersey)
  6. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  7. Washington Dulles International Airport
  8. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  9. Miami International Airport
  10. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

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