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United Flyer Dies of COVID-19 Aboard Aircraft

United Flyer Dies of COVID-19 Aboard Aircraft
Joe Cortez

A coroner investigation confirmed a modern nightmares of flyers: A passenger boarded an United Airlines aircraft bearing the COVID-19 virus, and died from complications aboard the flight. A spokesperson for the carrier says the passenger falsified the pre-boarding questionnaire.

A coroner investigation confirmed a United Airlines passenger died aboard a flight earlier in December 2020 due to complications of COVID-19. Orlando NBC affiliate WESH-TV reports 69-year-old Isaias Hernandez died due to acute respiratory failure, secondary to COVID-19.

Death Initially Ruled Cardiac Event, Plane Change Did Not Take Place

According to accounts of the flight, Hernandez boarded United Flight 591, departing Orlando International Airport (MCO) for Los Angeles International Airport. As part of the airline’s “Ready-to-Fly” protocol, the flyer responded negatively when asked if he either currently had COVID-19, or was exposed to someone with the virus. A spokesperson from United later told WESH: “it is apparent he wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”

After takeoff, Hernandez collapsed and aid was administered. The flight was diverted to New Orleans, where paramedics removed the flyer from the aircraft. The flyer’s wife allegedly told the emergency workers that he presented for symptoms of the novel Coronavirus, including losing his sense of taste and smell.

Because the incident was originally ruled a cardiac event, flyers were allowed to continue aboard the same aircraft to Los Angeles. They were also given the option to deplane and take a later flight to their final destination. The airline told the television station: “A change in aircraft was not warranted.”

United says they have given passenger information to health authorities to let them know they could have been exposed to the virus, and potentially for contact tracing.

Second Death Attributed to COVID-19 Aboard a Commercial Flight

Hernandez’s death marks the second time a passenger died aboard a commercial flight due to complications from COVID-19. In July 2020, a woman flying aboard Spirit Airlines from Arizona to Dallas passed away after experiencing trouble breathing.

View Comments (18)


  1. rylan

    December 22, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    Awful that he died, however just as awful or worse that he boarded a flight (along with his wife it sounds like) knowing he was sick and exhibiting symptoms.

    Absolutely careless and borderline criminal that they knowingly exposed multiple other people. And the person that was performing cpr on the flight is showing symptoms now, so you know there are going to be a lot more people that got it from this pax.

  2. Carolinian

    December 23, 2020 at 4:53 am

    All airlines should be checking temperatures. It appears this passenger was sweating when he boarded. A proper temp check should have kept him off the aircraft.

  3. Antonio8069

    December 23, 2020 at 7:29 am

    I hope that UA bans his widow for life. That may sound harsh – but – the fact is they knowingly endangered the health of the crew and the passengers by falsifying the pre-flight questionnaire i.e. make her prove that she did not know his status! I have been on public transit, in stores and in theatres where other patrons refused to wear a mask. I got off the bus and reported the anti-maskers. In Canada, at least, we have zero tolerance for those who deliberately disobey public health orders, Its also interesting to note we have churches which have gone to court to overrule public health requirements. Each and every one of them has lost i.e. the judges get the importance of these rules.

  4. vargha

    December 23, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Yeah, it sounds like he lied. But attributing his death to COVID seems like a stretch.

  5. SFOpaul

    December 23, 2020 at 8:48 am

    I would imagine that family is opening themselves up for a gigantic lawsuit if anyone else on the plane contracted COVID and has a way to trace it back to that flight. Amazing amount of not negligence by that family to board the plane and lie to United about it.

  6. Podcat

    December 23, 2020 at 8:54 am

    Passenger lying on a form in order to fly?
    Imagine that.
    Probably happens every single day.

    In other news, no truth to the rumor United will accept promise to mail in payment for flights in lieu of being charged for tickets.

  7. MariaRDH

    December 23, 2020 at 8:57 am

    Selfish people. STAY HOME, especially if you are ill!

  8. MRM

    December 23, 2020 at 9:17 am

    Sick story. Literally and figuratively. People like this loser (and his co-conspiring wife) are what’s going to keep this COVID going longer than necessary – between him and idiots like the “muh rights” crowd – this thing won’t get under control for at least 18 more months. Was the woman charged with anything? She should be banned for life from air travel AFTER serving time.

  9. aethelwulf

    December 23, 2020 at 9:18 am

    This is why the USA is in such a mess…everyone lying, everyone insisting on their liberties…

  10. Adam1

    December 23, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Not that it is right to speak-ill of the deceased……however,
    From a distance, I can only assume this passenger would have had cold/flu symptoms prior to boarding the aircraft rather than it being a ‘sudden episode’ – but without knowing the specifics I am going to go out on a limb and say it was a disgustingly selfish decision by this passenger (or anyone) to leave their home if experiencing cold/flu symptoms regardless of circumstances.

  11. tracon

    December 23, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    How many people go from walking under their own steam to dying of COVID within three hours?
    I’m guessing this passenger died “with” covid.

  12. IsleSeat

    December 23, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    Maybe he was a UA elite and it was one if his entitlements to board?

  13. dts6b

    December 24, 2020 at 8:41 am

    The widow should not just be put on United’s NO FLY list, she should be put on the FAA’s NO FLY list so that she can’t fly on any airline in the U.S. I fully acknowledge that there must be a lot of people knowingly lying about their health condition before flying. However, there must be a very strong message sent to let people know that this is a serious issue. I hope that UA sues the widow in addition. Maybe more people will act responsibly if the punishment is harsh.

  14. cscasi

    December 24, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    I understand that the person who volunteered and gave Mr. Hernandez CPR, was hunched over this person for a long period of time before he passed and that vomit and urine on himself and his clothes. A few days later this person came down with COVID.
    No telling how many other passengers may come down may have or may come down with COVID because of this person and his wife. It is obvious she knew because of what was reported in this article.
    It’s a real shame. But, there are those among us who simply do not care about anyone else but themselves.
    Perhaps the airline can be sued for negligence. I hope at least the airline has reached out to the volunteer who got COVID because of trying to save Hernandez’s life and offered to pay his medical costs as well as giving him some sort of benefit from the airline.
    Be carefyl out there. You have to look out for yourself and protect yourself as best you can when you travel.

  15. bemis

    December 29, 2020 at 5:01 am

    There’s a “Dies due to Covid” and there’s “Has a heart attack while having covid”. Unfortunately, the way things are counted these days, these two distinct things are intentionally confused. And, the media have whipped the average person into a state of panic around Covid, despite the impacts to someone without any confounding factors not really being much worse than the flu. If someone with the flu had a heart attack on a place – a tragedy for the family, surely, but time to put together a lynch mob for the widow? People need some compassion, and a grounding in reality, not TV hype.

  16. MRM

    December 29, 2020 at 9:58 am

    bemis: I see you had a personal diatribe to post so you decided to do it here and very loosely tie it to COVID.

    Make no mistake – this man and his wife were 100% in the wrong and this woman should pay the price legally and financially for years to come. Period.

  17. simpleflyer

    December 30, 2020 at 8:42 am


    I disagree with your suggestion that the airline be sued for negligence because they failed to suss out that one of their passengers was lying. And unless they are a flying ambulance, and in this case they were not, they are only in the transportation business, not the medical business. They can at best call on the phone for advice from appropriate sources, but even then, the quality of the advice given depends on the quality of the medical history they have to report, and that included a false report filed by the patient before he boarded.

    What is going to ensue from this debacle is that requests for volunteers to give CPR on board are going to go unanswered. The fact is, people who would truthfully answer ‘yes’ to any of those medical questions, aren’t going to be flying in the first place.

  18. FEasy

    January 6, 2021 at 5:57 am

    bemis: death certificates always list multiple causes. That’s why almost none of the covid deaths have “covid” as the sole reason of death. Basically, you always die because your heart stops or because you stop breathing or because you lost a ton of blood. That’s nearly always going to be mentioned on death certificates as the immediate cause, at least in the US. To that, they may add for example “pneumonia” as a cause. The real casues, like “covid” or “traffic accident” are often way down the list of causality. This often leads to misunderstandings on causes of death and may provide false reassurance (e.g. you can’t use that to say that nearly no one actually dies from covid alone).

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