United Airlines Working with CDC after Suspected COVID-19 Related Death During Flight to California

Dec. 21, 2020

Health officials are racing to contact those who traveled aboard a United Airlines plane after a passenger exhibiting coronavirus symptoms experienced a “medical emergency” during a flight from Orlando, Florida, to Los Angeles earlier this week and subsequently died.

United Airlines flight 591 was forced to divert to New Orleans on Monday when a man aboard the aircraft became suddenly ill, according to USA Today. He was dropped off at an area hospital, where he later died, before the plane continued on to California.

United is working with the government to notify passengers who may have been exposed.

“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” a United Airlines spokesperson said in a statement on Friday.

“Now that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection.”

Before boarding a flight, United Airlines requires all passengers to fill out a ready-to-fly checklist, promising they had not tested positive for COVID-19 and did not have symptoms. The questionnaires operate on the honor system and travelers are not required to show proof of health.

A fellow passenger posted on social media in wake of the incident that the deceased’s wife had told emergency responders her husband had been suffering coronavirus symptoms, including a loss of taste and smell, before takeoff.

Four flight attendants who worked aboard Flight 591 entered a 14-day quarantine upon their arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, Taylor Garland, a spokesperson for Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told NBC Los Angeles.

The CDC said in a statement that they are in the “process of collecting information and proceeding according to our standard operating procedures to determine if further public health action is appropriate.”

The agency has declined to provide any additional information about the deceased passenger “to protect the privacy of the individual.”

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