A passenger who flew on a JetBlue flight from New York to West Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night learned midair that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said, raising questions about possible widespread exposure.
The passenger, who had previously been tested for the virus and was awaiting results, got a notification toward the end of the flight that the test had come back positive. The person was overheard talking about it, and the flight crew quickly notified health officials on the ground, JetBlue confirmed today.
“JetBlue had no prior indication that this customer had or may have had coronavirus,” the airline said in a statement.
The flight, which departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport with 114 people on board, landed at Palm Beach International Airport around 8:30 p.m., with medical workers rushing to a call at the airport shortly after, officials said.
Another passenger on board, Scott Rodman, told CNBC that the plane idled on the tarmac for about two hours before health officials told some passengers that a man seated nearby had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“From what we were told, he had been tested for the virus two days ago and got a text message on the plane while he was on the plane,” said Rodman, who was flying to Florida to visit his parents.
“It’s kind of wild,” he said. “If you’ve gotten tested and you think there might be something wrong, to get on an airplane is crazy.”
It was unclear whether the passenger had been instructed not to travel.
Health officials quickly started an “extensive epidemiological investigation,” the Florida Department of Health said in a statement.
Anyone who had close contact with the passenger was being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms. The passenger who tested positive was in isolation as of today, the department said.
Passengers from that flight came through Palm Beach International Airport in Concourse A, which was shut down for cleaning today. The airport was otherwise operating normally, a spokeswoman said.
At JFK, employees cleaned the gate, security checkpoints, kiosks, restrooms and “and any other area the passenger went through based on security camera footage,” according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the region’s airports.
“The health and safety of our customers and crew members is our top priority,” JetBlue said in a statement today. “We’re asking customers who do not feel well or are concerned they may have coronavirus to not fly until cleared to travel by a doctor or health professional.”