On Wednesday night, a passenger on JetBlue Flight 253 from New York City to Palm Beach, Fla., learned midair that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. JetBlue has since banned the passenger from the airline for his failure to report his condition before boarding.
“Last night’s event put our crewmembers, customers and federal and local officials in an unsettling situation that could have easily been avoided,” JetBlue said in a statement, “and as such, this customer will not be permitted to fly on JetBlue in the future.”
With 114 passengers on board, the flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Palm Beach International Airport was held on the tarmac for hours after landing while health authorities were called to the scene. Once passengers were allowed to disembark, the plane was sanitized per the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Scott Rodman, who told CNBC he was sitting near the infected passenger during the flight, after passengers were deplaned, they were taken to a meeting room at the airport to speak with health department officials.
“From what we were told, he had been tested for the virus two days ago,” Rodman said. “When he was sitting on the plane, he got either a phone call or a text message saying that it was a positive test.”
In Rodman’s interview with CNBC, he said travelers were not told to self-quarantine and were free to leave, and that health officials would check in and monitor passengers at a later time.
“We were told that we were fine to go do whatever we want,” Rodman said. “And we were told that because he wasn’t sneezing or coughing at all, that we’re fine.”
Lacy Larson, spokesperson for Palm Beach International Airport, told The Post the airport underwent a thorough cleaning upon learning about the passenger’s test result and resumed operating normally.
“We are following all the guidelines provided by the Department of Health, of course, and the CDC. We’re taking extra measures to ensure a clean environment in the airport,” she said. “We’re increasing the sterilization of the high-traffic areas, the high-‘touch’ areas, the facility in general.”
JetBlue carried out cleaning of JFK’s Gate 7 area where the flight departed, in addition to other areas the infected passenger came in contact with based on security camera footage, such as security checkpoints, restrooms, kiosks and surrounding gates.
“This is on top of the enhanced cleaning protocols that have been in have been in place at JFK Airport,” the Port Authority said in a statement. “These protocols include at least twice daily sanitization of all common and high-touchpoint areas with EPA-approved and CDC-endorsed antiviral disinfectants, in addition to overnight deep cleaning of all terminal areas.”
The CDC and JetBlue are asking travelers worried that they have the virus not to fly until they’ve been cleared by a health professional. JetBlue is one of many airlines offering customers the option of changing travel plans by waiving standard fees for changes and cancellations.
Those who believe they’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus and are experiencing symptoms should call their doctor. The CDC is warning those most at risk to avoid crowded places and nonessential travel.