Man with COVID-19 Symptoms Dies Aboard United Airlines Flight

Air travel is stressful enough, even when we’re not in the middle of a global health crisis. On top of worrying about making it through security with your travel-sized shampoo, worrying about making the flight on time, and worrying about the actual flying itself, we now have to worry about transmitting or catching a serious illness as we pass through heavily populated areas and sit in close proximity to others for several hours.

For the passengers aboard United Airlines flight UA591 on Monday, December 14th, those worries got very, very real. An article published by Fox 2 Detroit today explains that a man aboard the Orlando/Los Angeles flight suffered a medical emergency and was later pronounced dead after the aircraft made an emergency landing in New Orleans.

While United Airlines informed passengers at the time that the man had simply suffered a cardiac arrest, there is speculation that the man was COVID-19 positive. Between the statements from passengers, the airline, the CDC, and the spouse of the diseased, there is an absolute flurry of they said/they said out here. If you’re finding it difficult to follow this story, it’s no wonder.

Some passengers claim the man’s wife explicitly said that he had been symptomatic for a week and that the man was very clearly ill when boarding the plane- shaking and sweating. Others maintain that the deceased’s wife only said he was going to take a test upon landing in LA. United Airlines tweeted that the assumption the passenger had COVID-19 was incorrect, yet one passenger asserts that the nurse and the EMT who performed CPR on the man insisted that everyone near him get tested. With all the PR language coming from the airline and the emotional accounts from the passengers and no official report on the death available yet, it’s hard to say exactly what happened on that flight.

What we do know right now is that United Airlines is sharing information with the CDC so that they can contact anyone who might have been exposed to the virus. We also know that the CDC and United Airlines intend to continue in this information-sharing partnership to more accurately and efficiently contact trace going forward. This program started on December 17th and will focus efforts on incoming international travelers first, before expanding to everyone else as it gets rolling.