United Airlines flight UA591 from Orlando to Los Angeles diverted to New Orleans on Monday after a male passenger had a medical emergency on board. United said on Friday that it was working with health officials to contact passengers who might have been exposed to the coronavirus by the passenger who died after being taken to a hospital.
The flight continued to Los Angeles on the same plane (Boeing 737-900ER registered N37466) after the passenger was taken to a hospital. Local news reports mentioned cardiac arrest.
On Friday, United Airlines officials confirmed the passenger, who died at the hospital, had COVID-19 symptoms but did not confirm he was COVID-19 positive or that that was his cause of death. However, reports indicated that the man’s wife had told emergency medical workers that he had tested positive for the virus
The airline said in a statement that it has been contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the incident, which suggests a positive COVID-19 case.
“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,” the statement, provided by United spokesman Charles Hobart, said.
“Now that the CDC 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.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority, which is why we have various policies and procedures in place such as mask mandates and requiring customers to complete a ‘Ready-to-Fly’ checklist before the flight acknowledging they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days and do not have COVID-related symptoms.”
Airlines’ health questionnaires are on the honour system. Passengers are not required to show proof they don’t have COVID-19 or virus symptoms before a flight. The passenger acknowledged on the questionnaire that he did not have a COVID-19 diagnosis or symptoms.
The four United flight attendants who worked on flight UA591 began a 14-day quarantine when they landed at Los Angeles International Airport out of an “abundance of caution,” according to Taylor Garland, spokeswoman for their union, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
United Airlines said it has been in contact with the deceased passenger’s family.
“We have been in touch with his family and have extended our sincerest condolences to them for their loss,” the statement said.
The man behind me on this flight. DIED. OF COVID. MIDFLIGHT.
I have so many questions.
— Jo LaFlame (@jobreauxx) December 15, 2020