Earlier this week, a man sneezed on a U.S. Airways flight from Philadelphia to the Dominican Republic and then made a joke about having Ebola but the flight crew and airline officials did not find it funny. Officials in hazmat suits boarded the plane when it landed, removed the joking passenger and tested him for Ebola.
The 54-year-old man, whose name has not been released, is reported to have uttered, “I have Ebola. You’re all screwed,” after sneezing, adding “I’ve been to Africa.” Another passenger alerted a flight attendant who then alerted the captain. The joking passenger was then heard to have said “I was just kidding. I ain’t from Africa,” as he was escorted off the plane to some booing from other passengers who had all been held two hours on arrival because of the incident. Video captured on a camera phone also captures another passenger saying “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Although test results were negative and the passenger’s passport showed no indication of travel to Africa, U.S. Airways issued a statement that did not specifically make mention of the Ebola joke but did make it clear there was nothing funny about the situation and that the safety of all its passengers is their main priority. Even though the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that the virus can only be spread by direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person, making the risk of contracting it on an airplane rather low, the U.S. Airways statement said the airline was strictly adhering to CDC guidelines.
The joking passenger, who is from North America, was taken to the airport’s medical center to be examined. Aside from sneezing, he was also reported to have been coughing during the flight but did not have a fever.
The removed passenger was not the only one making jokes on the flight. As other passengers became aware of the situation and started taking video with their camera phones, the flight attendant took to the intercom to ask that passengers only “take good shots” of her. She also called the joking passenger an “idiot.” With 36 years of experience behind her, the flight attendant also made attempts to assuage any fears of the other passengers, stating that the arrival of four hazmat-suited individuals will look worse than it is. An airport official later commented that the joke was in poor taste.
U.S. Airways and airport officials are not the only ones to find the passenger’s Ebola joke not particularly funny. Twitter reaction included such tweets as “Some[one] thought it would be funny to sneeze then joke about having Ebola on a Dominican Republic flight…72 hr quarantine is funny [too],” “Really? What is wrong with this person?” “Oh, people. Stop making bomb and Ebola jokes on planes,” and “You wouldn’t joke about cancer so why are you making jokes about Ebola?” Other Twitter users took this situation as an opportunity to warn all future jokers, one tweeting “Joke about having Ebola on a plane and this may happen. You’ve been warned,” and another tweeting “For friends who like to joke, don’t joke about this.”
By Jennifer Fernicola Ronay