Coronavirus: Flight goes on despite passenger's death from COVID-19

Passengers on board a flight where a man died of COVID-19 say he was "clearly sick" before getting on, and are livid the airline crew simply wiped the area down with wet wipes before resuming the journey. 

United flight 591 last week took off from Orlando, Florida - where about 100 people a day are dying of the disease - bound for Los Angeles, California - where the situation is even worse. It made an emergency stop in New Orleans, local media reported, after a man suffering breathing problems collapsed.

Passengers rushed to help him, but he was declared dead soon after medics in New Orleans got on board. 

"I knew the risks involved in performing CPR on someone that potentially has COVID but I made the choice to do so anyways," paramedic Tony Aldapa told the Daily Mail.

"I spoke with the passenger's wife about his medical history and she never mentioned he was positive, she said he was scheduled to have a test done in LA."

But she later told medics he'd already tested positive for the virus, which has killed at least 1.7 million people already. The airline said that means he must have lied when checking in.

After his body was removed, passengers said crew spent "hours" cleaning up the aisle and seats while they waited, rather than find the passengers a new plane.

"He was shaking and sweating boarding the plane," one passenger tweeted. "He was clearly sick and then died mid-flight. We had an emergency landing in New Orleans and we didn't even switch planes afterwards. 

"We all sat there for hours waiting while you guys cleaned up his blood and germs with wet wipes. Is this how you guys handle other people's safety and health?"

Another passenger confirmed this version of events in a letter of complaint written to the airline, published on travel site

"I was expecting that we would all come off the plane and a special crew would get on with special equipment to disinfect the plane... But NO! Instead, a lady wearing a white t-shirt... came with a bunch of wipes and wiped the passenger seat and that was all." 

United said they didn't know it was COVID-19 at the time. 

"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 airline said in a statement.

"Now that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 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 flight attendants have since been quarantined, United said, begging future passengers who start showing symptoms to "stay home". 

Aldapa has since come down with symptoms, but he's not surprised. 

"I spent the remainder of the flight covered in my own sweat and in that man's urine. I have since become symptomatic myself and am awaiting the results of my second test. I have not been contacted by the airline or by CDC as of this time. 

"Looking back I would not change my actions, but I may have stepped up earlier. Knowing I had the knowledge, training and experience to help out, I could not have sat idly by and watched someone die."

Even if they lied about their health, he later added.

"Everyone deserves the chance to live and if people lose that willingness to help because of fear of a virus then we really are in trouble."