United Flight Diverted to Remove 'Disruptive Passengers' Upset about a Person's Coughing and Sneezing

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Models of viruses are seen during President Donald J. Trump’s tour of the viral pathogenesis laboratory Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)



A United Airlines flight en route from Vail, Colorado to Newark, New Jersey made an unplanned stop in Denver and three passengers were removed. The trio had been upset over the coughing and sneezing of a fellow passenger on the plane. They believed this individual was displaying symptoms of the Wuhan virus.

A physician on the flight, Jordan Safirstein, sent out text messages throughout the drama.

Right now, on a United flight from Vail to Denver. Got diverted for “security reasons.” Now landed. Rumor is that there is a “coughing passenger” that is being de-planed. This is all rumor. The pilot has not given details. Stay tuned.

Someone just removed from @United flight. Waiting for details…

People calm, but increasing use of wipes evident.

Turns out the person was freaking about being about being next to people who were coughing/sneezing and making unreasonable requests and eventually becoming “unruly” and uncooperative.

No #COVID here.

This speaks to the unintended consequences of heightened awareness and #coronavirus.

Safirstein had gotten the story wrong. It was the “disruptive passengers” who were escorted off the plane.

Less than an hour later, Safirstein received a response from United Airlines which said, “Hello Jordan. We’re very sorry for any concern this may be causing. While there was a situation with a passenger that caused us to remove them from the flight, we can confirm this was in no way a medical situation.”

United claimed the “sick passenger, who was suffering from allergies and not the coronavirus, was allowed to stay on the plane, which took off about 30 minutes later.”


They said “the individual was also evaluated on the plane, but they did not have a fever and that it was in no way a medical situation.”

KUSA-TV reported via Fox 29:

A small group of passengers became disruptive on Flight 1562 after they were seated next to someone who was sneezing and coughing, United Airlines officials told Denver media.

The passengers failed to follow crew members’ instructions, forcing the diversion to Denver, where the plane was met by police and the disruptive passengers removed,

I’m not clear on this, but it appears that United Airlines ruled out coronavirus simply because this person didn’t have a fever. None of the accounts of this story say this individual was tested for the virus.

Not to be rude, but I can understand the passengers’ concern. Even before the coronavirus became a “thing,” I wouldn’t want to sit next to someone who was coughing and sneezing.

I think we can expect to hear many more stories like this in the weeks ahead.



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