Airlines and Sick Passengers – updated

Update:  United Airlines responded as well, with the following email.  The reply from Austrian Airlines, posted here earlier, is further below.

“Thank you for contacting United Airlines; we appreciate your sharing your concern.

“To answer your question, yes we do have records in place of all incidents that happen on the aircraft and have methods in place for tracking.

“If in fact that an individual from your flights on October 7th were found to be contagious, and it affected any passengers direct health you would have received a phone call directly from United Airlines.

“Please know we are monitoring the situation closely and are in regular communication with health officials, who have advised that Ebola is not spread through casual contact or through the air. We have cleaning procedures in place after each flight, thorough cleanings at the end of each day and deep cleanings regularly for all our aircraft.

“We have taken several steps to protect our employees and customers during the Ebola outbreak with a wide range of protocols, including updating our aircraft disinfecting process, utilizing our MedLink resource for travel and handling decisions for ill passengers, and advocating for government screening on arrival in BRU (Brussels) and CDG (Paris) of inbound passengers from affected areas through our Regulatory Affairs team. In addition, we are increasing the provision of gloves onboard for flight attendants to use when customers are ill.

“Screening procedures are handled and determined by each individual airport and government health organizations, not by the airline.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) this week will begin new layers of entry screening at five U.S. airports that receive more than 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“The new screening began at JFK (New York-Kennedy) on Saturday and at IAD, EWR, ORD and ATL (Atlanta) this week.

“After passport review, CBP will escort travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to an area of the airport set aside for screening. Trained CBP staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask them a series of health and exposure questions and take their temperatures. Travelers who need further evaluation or monitoring will be referred to the appropriate public health authority. Those who have neither symptoms/fever nor a known history of exposure will be asked to complete a daily temperature log and provide their contact information.

“The new screening adds another layer to the exit screening already in place in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as well as Nigeria, where the outbreak has been contained. That exit screening involves travelers responding to a travel health questionnaire, being visually assessed for potential illness and having their body temperature measured.

“Between flights, all lavatories and galleys are cleaned and trash is removed. Each night, in addition to lavatory and galley cleaning, tray tables and armrests are wiped down and disinfected and floors are vacuumed. We also do regularly deep cleans on each aircraft which includes washing ceilings and overhead bins and completely scrubbing the entire interior.

“We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a future United Airlines flight.”

Original Post:

On Austrian Airlines flight 94 (United 9822) from IAD-WIE  (Washington-Dulles to Vienna), October 7,  an overnight flight, a passenger vomited.  Flight attendants got all gloved up and everyone got very quiet.  Was there ebola on board?

Asked about the airline’s procedures, Austrian Airlines replied via email:

“Thank you for your mail. Austrian Airlines follows the recommendations for cabin crew procedures issued by WHO, CDC, ECDC, EASA and IATA. Accordingly, a highly communicable disease has to be suspected when a traveler has a fever of 38°C/100°F or higher, associated with at least one or more symptoms like coughing, impaired breathing, persistent diarrhea or vomiting, skin rash, bruising or bleeding without previous injury, confusion of recent onset. Concerning the Ebola-outbreak it is additionally important to find out if the passenger had possible contact to Ebola-contaminated material or sick persons or if he stayed in the outbreak region in West Africa during the last 21 days.

“If a passenger meets the above criteria the captain has the obligation (according to international health regulations) to inform the destination airport which will contact the relevant health authorities. Those authorities will decide if further actions like follow-ups are necessary or not.

“However, if a passenger obviously suffers from e.g. simple air-sickness or is pregnant and does not require any additional medical support or attention the authorities will not be involved.

“Nevertheless, I hope you still enjoyed your flight with Austrian Airlines.”

No word on that particular flight, of course. But also, so far, no reports of flight attendants getting sick.

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