You know how every “deadly virus breakout” movie focuses on airports and usually depicts scientists tracking the air travel of the bug’s first carriers? Now there’s a study that ranks U.S. airports in terms of their “disease contagion spreading influence.” Interestingly, the results don’t track exactly with how busy the airports are. Honolulu, the nation’s 25th busiest airport, ranks third in disease-spreading potential.
A simplified model using random diffusion might say that half the travelers at the Honolulu airport will go to San Francisco and half to Anchorage, Alaska, taking the disease and spreading it to travelers at those airports, who would randomly travel and continue the contagion. In fact, while the Honolulu airport gets only 30 percent as much air traffic as New York’s Kennedy International Airport, the new model predicts that it is nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network: Its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs gives it a ranking of third in terms of contagion-spreading influence. Kennedy Airport is ranked first by the model, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O’Hare) and Washington (Dulles). Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is first in number of flights, ranks eighth in contagion influence. Boston’s Logan International Airport ranks 15th.