A United passenger who fell ill on a flight from Orlando and died had COVID-19 symptoms: airline officials

When a United Airlines flight from Orlando to Los Angeles diverted to New Orleans Monday night for a medical emergency, a passenger on the flight live tweeted the drama and claimed the passenger died of COVID-19 after overhearing comments from his wife.

The flight continued on to Los Angeles on the same plane.

United officials at the time said only that United flight 591 diverted for a medical emergency and that the passenger was taken to a hospital. Local news reports mentioned cardiac arrest. 

On Friday, United officials confirmed the passenger, who it said 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. The airline said in a statement that it has been contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the incident, which suggests a positive COVID-19 case. CDC officials have not responded to requests about the 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 honor 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.

Just one U.S. airline, Frontier, checks passengers’ temperatures before boarding.

A woman in her 30s died from COVID-19 while on a Spirit Airlines flight in July, according to airport officials in Albuquerque, New Mexico.           

The late-July flight from Las Vegas to Dallas-Fort Worth was diverted to Albuquerque when the crew reported an unresponsive female on board, Stephanie Kitts, a spokesperson for Albuquerque International Sunport, said in an email to The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.

The passenger on the United Airlines flight who live tweeted the incident this week has not responded to requests for comment from USA TODAY.

She was sitting behind the passenger, according to her tweets.

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