United Airlines said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had requested the passenger manifest of an Orlando-to-Los-Angeles flight that diverted to New Orleans because of a medical emergency earlier in the week.
The man who became ill on the plane was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The passenger had filled out a required checklist before flying, saying he had not tested positive for the novel coronavirus and did not have symptoms. United says now that “it is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”
United referred questions about the man’s coronavirus status to the CDC, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some social media users who said they were also on the flight reported that the man’s wife said he had symptoms of the virus, including loss of taste and smell. United said that despite people overhearing that information, no medical professionals confirmed that the man had the coronavirus at the time.
“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,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in a statement. “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.”
United said the airline decided to keep going to Los Angeles after initially believing the man was suffering from “cardiac distress.”
“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,” the airline said. “All passengers opted to continue.”
It was not clear Friday if any passengers had been contacted by the CDC. In response to questions from The Washington Post over the past few days, representatives for the ambulance service, hospital, airport and city of New Orleans either declined to release information about the man’s condition or said they had no information about a connection to the coronavirus.
In July, a woman died of covid-19 during a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Dallas. Passengers were never notified, The Washington Post found, and the cause of her death wasn’t publicly reported until October.
“We implore passengers not travel if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-related symptoms,” United said. “If in doubt, the best option is to get tested.”