A JetBlue passenger who landed in Palm Beach International Airport Wednesday and was later found to have tested positive for COVID-19 knew he was potentially carrying it but boarded the flight any way.
Toward the end of the three-hour flight departing from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the unidentified passenger was notified mid-air through either text or email that he had tested positive. Word managed to spread through the cabin, and JetBlue’s crew took action to notify authorities on the ground in West Palm Beach of the situation.
JetBlue said the passenger did not notify its staff of his test status in advance of boarding.
“In reviewing last night’s event, we determined the customer boarded our flight knowing he was awaiting results for a coronavirus test without disclosing it to anyone at JetBlue,” it said.
It said the passenger was now banned from JetBlue.
“We ask all customers who are not feeling well, who believe they may have coronavirus, or who are awaiting test results, to avoid travel until they are cleared by a medical professional,” JetBlue said. “Last night’s event put our crewmembers, customers and federal and local officials in an unsettling situation that could have easily been avoided.”
While airlines have been told to toughen screenings after the novel coronavirus outbreak, they have not been ordered to ask passengers whether they are well enough to board. A JetBlue representative referred additional questions to the Department of Homeland Security. A department representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to request for comment.
In a statement, the Palm Beach County Health Department said it had spoken with all passengers on board the aircraft once the passenger was identified, and that all CDC and Health Department guidelines were followed for a COVID-19 positive patient. It said passengers in the vicinity of the positive patient were advised of monitoring procedures, while the rest of the passengers were released to go home and given directions to call the health department with any medical concerns.
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It said the airport had sterilized the containment area where passengers disembarked, which was a separate location from the main terminals of the airport.
The individual who tested positive is isolated, it said.
In a statement, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, said it was informed late Wednesday of the situation. It said JetBlue staff at the gate where the passenger departed immediately took action to sanitize the surrounding area and any others the passenger had visited “based on security camera footage.”