A United Airlines flight had to be diverted Sunday after several passengers grew disruptive and angry when they were seated next to a passenger they believed to be sick.
The flight, which was headed from Colorado to Newark, New Jersey, made an unscheduled stop in Denver not long after takeoff when authorities say three passengers became unruly and refused to follow crew members’ instructions, forcing the diversion, AP reports.
The plane was met by police, who escorted the disruptive passengers from the aircraft.
United Airlines officials said the “sickly” passenger in question was actually suffering from allergies, causing coughing and sneezing. The passenger was screened for a fever on board and allowed to continue her trip after the screening came back negative, station KCNC-TV reported.
Sunday’s incident shines a spotlight on growing fears over the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has sickened over 100,000 worldwide. New cases of the potentially deadly illness, officially named COVID-19, in the United States have surged in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 Americans affected and the World Health Organization on Wednesday, March 11 declaring the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Nationwide, at least 32 people have died from the virus — and health officials warn the epidemic hasn’t peaked here just yet.
“I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News on Wednesday.
Panic over the disease has forced major airlines to halt international flights to hot spots such as China and Italy, among other nations. College campuses are also scurrying to get ahead of the epidemic, suspending face-to-face lectures and even ordering students out of their dorms.
The fast-spreading virus has left much of the country on edge, and online critics seemed sympathetic to the United passengers’ bad behavior.
“Starting to get scary. Frightened people do irrational things,” one woman commented.
One user said it was only a matter of time before “you see the morons fighting over toilet paper because of coronavirus.”
“Good thing the passenger didn’t have a splinter – all hell would have broken loose,” another joked.
The incident remains under investigation, and it’s unclear whether the three passengers will be criminally charged.
Atlanta Black Star reached out to United Airlines for comment and is awaiting a response.