Flying can be a nightmare these days, but fortunately most of us don’t have to endure an incident quite as nightmarish as the 549 passengers traveling on an Air Emirates flight from Dubai to New York, including rapper Vanilla Ice, did on Wednesday morning.
“Emirates can confirm that about 10 passengers on #EK203 from Dubai to New York were taken ill,” the airline announced via Twitter in their initial statement Wednesday morning.
“On arrival, as a precaution, they were attended to by local health authorities," the statement continued. "All others will disembark shortly. The safety & care of our customers is our first priority.”
According to statement from Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, the plane landed at 9:12 A.M. and was immediately directed “to a location away from the terminal so that medical personnel from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could board the aircraft to evaluate the situation and provide immediate assistance before passengers deplane.”
Emirates issued a second statement in a series of tweets on Wednesday afternoon announcing that the quarantine was over, and that all the passengers had disembarked after being evaluated by health authorities, and that several went to the hospital for care and further evaluation.
“Emirates can confirm that all passengers have disembarked from flight #EK203. All passengers were screened by local health authorities prior to disembarkation. 3 passengers & 7 crew were transferred to the hospital for further medical care and evaluation.” They continued, “All other #EK203 passengers were allowed to leave and clear customs. Our crew & on-ground staff extended full cooperation with the authorities during the onboard screenings & the aircraft has now been handed back to Emirates.” The statement concluded with an apology for the inconvenience.
Oh and did we mention Vanilla Ice was on the plane?
The rapper added some colorful commentary on the incident with a couple of his own tweets. "So I just landed from Dubai and now there is like tons of ambulances and fire trucks and police all over the place,” he tweeted, alongside a short video of the scene outside filmed from the plane window. (Of course Vanilla Ice gets a window seat.)
Fellow passenger Larry Coben also shared his firsthand view of the event, tweeting out photos of passengers having their temperature taken, as well as the CDC form passengers were required to fill out before disembarking.
Passengers on the flight—including crew members—reported symptoms including a cough, fever, and gastrointestinal issues, CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes told SELF in an email statement.
"CDC public health officers, working with port authority, NYC, NYS, EMS, and CBP officials, have completed health evaluations (including taking temperatures) of all 549 passengers and crew members on board," the statement reads. "Eleven individuals have been taken to a local hospital for care and the remaining passengers have been released."
Now, according to the statement, the CDC is "requesting the passengers who have been evaluated and released to call their provider and health department if they develop any symptoms, and to give their travel history and report of incident. They may receive a follow-up call from their health department just as a check-in.”
But there are still a lot of conflicting reports and unanswered questions out there.
For instance, there's some confusion when it comes to exactly how many people fell ill. Initial reports claimed the number of people who reported symptoms was as high as 100, but the airline later said that only about 10 were found to be ill.
However, the CDC reports 11 passengers have been hospitalized. And, making matters even more complicated, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary Eric Phillips tweeted that there were 19 sick passengers, 10 of which were hospitalized and nine who purportedly refused treatment.
It’s also not yet clear what the illness is, but experts are working on it. Phillips tweeted, "Health officials are processing tests now to determine the cause. Symptoms still pointing to the flu.”
Indeed, coughing, fever, and GI distress are symptoms of the flu, as well as similar common viral infections, but it’s too soon to know anything. According to the Port Authority statement, “The CDC will provide further updates as they become available,” presumably including test results.
Although situations like this are rare, it’s a good idea to know the protocol should you ever find yourself in one.
If you’re wondering, the CDC has some guidelines intended to help cabin crew prevent a disease from spreading on the aircraft. The recommendations include wearing gloves and face masks when in contact with infected people or surfaces, and treating all body fluids as if they are infectious.
They also advise the crew to minimize interactions with infected passengers, ideally by separating the sick person or people and having just a single crew member tend to them. And if the symptoms indicate a possible respiratory infection, then they should request coughing or sneezing passengers to cover their mouths (or offer them face masks).
And the “single most important infection control measure,” according to the CDC? Washing your hands, which we hope you're already a seasoned expert at.