Sick on a Plane: What to Know about Ebola, Other Illnesses

We’ve all heard about the man who traveled to Dallas on an unnamed airline and was later diagnosed with Ebola.

According to experts, he exhibited no symptoms before, during and immediately after his flight and – as the New York Times reports, quoting the director of the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionEbola is not contagious until symptoms develop, there is ‘zero chance’ that the patient infected anyone else on the flight.”

But there are some important guidelines and practices that apply to this and other infectious diseases that are good to know.

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney is remaining calm.

Health Info for Airlines and Passengers

In new guidelines, the CDC makes a very important point:

“The risk of spreading Ebola to passengers or crew on an aircraft is low because Ebola spreads by direct contact with infected body fluids. Ebola does NOT spread through the air like flu.”

In the past, airlines have barred passengers from planes for other infectious diseases. It shouldn’t have to be stated but we will: If you are sick, do not fly. As the CDC reiterates, you may not be allowed to fly:

“A U.S. Department of Transportation rule permits airlines to deny boarding to air travelers with serious contagious diseases that could spread during flight, including travelers with possible Ebola symptoms. This rule applies to all flights of U.S. airlines, and to direct flights (no change of planes) to or from the United States by foreign airlines.”

More Useful Information

If you think you’ve been exposed to any infectious disease, see a health care professional without delay. Frequent hand-washing is always recommended.

  • More CDC guidance on Ebola for airlines can be found here.
  • CDC guidance on Ebola for travelers or anyone concerned about symptons and treatment can be found here.
  • Information on what passengers can do – in general – to avoid illness on a plane can be found here.


Updated: November 7, 2014