A man who denied having symptoms of COVID-19 boarded a United Airlines flight in Orlando on Monday bound for Los Angeles. Shortly into the flight he suffered a medical emergency and died onboard, and his wife was heard telling medical personnel that he had COVID symptoms.
The incident happened on Flight 591, and it's basically everyone's worst nightmare in this pandemic, if they've dared get on a plane at all. As the Associated Press reports, the plane was diverted to New Orleans for the emergency, and now the airline and the CDC are informing everyone on the flight of their potential exposure — even though the man's COVID status has not been confirmed.
One passenger on the flight said she heard from a nurse onboard who tended to the man that it was likely COVID-related, and the same passenger said the family the man was traveling with had Disney bags stowed — suggesting they had just come from Disney World. Another passenger said the man's wife was overheard telling someone that the man had COVID symptoms, including loss of taste and smell.
*We assumed(and it’s just an assumption) he was traveling back from Disneyworld. His family was pulling down disney bags when they were leaving the flight— Shay (@shaylabobmonsta) December 15, 2020
There was no mouth-to-mouth. I was right next to him as they were trying to resuscitate. Unfortunately, I saw the whole thing. We all thought heart attack at first, but wife quickly shared that he was experiencing shortness of breath and lack of taste and smell.— Robert Reeves (@reevesreel) December 16, 2020
As the New York Times reports, the four flight attendants on the flight have all gone into 14-day quarantine. Still, United has not confirmed whether the man was COVID-positive, and says that when it diverted the flight, all the pilot and crew knew was that the man was suffering cardiac arrest.
United says that the decision to allow the flight to continue on from New Orleans to Los Angeles was made before it was understood that the man may have had COVID symptoms. The man reportedly filled out a "Ready to Fly" checklist form saying that he had no symptoms and had not tested positive for the virus, but the man's family says he was feeling ill leading up to the day of travel, per the Times. Also, the man reportedly had underlying conditions including high blood pressure and a respiratory issue.
"The decision to continue on to Los Angeles was made after the medical professionals initially ruled the emergency as cardiac distress," United said in a statement. "A change in aircraft was not warranted. Instead, passengers were given the option to deplane and take a later flight or continue on to Los Angeles. All passengers opted to continue."
The incident comes just as airlines are expected to be busier than they've been for most of this year, as people ignore health warnings and/or decide to take the risk in traveling in order to celebrate the holidays with loved ones. Very few cases have surfaced in the media of people knowingly contracting COVID-19 on flights, and experts have suggested up until now that flying with masks on is relatively safe.
United also said in its statement, "We implore passengers not travel if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or have Covid-related symptoms. If in doubt, the best option is to get tested."
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