Ebola on a plane

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I wrote Why Flight Attendants are Concerned About Ebola for Mashable on Oct 29, 2014

I’d just gotten off a flight from Las Vegas to Chicago, and only had a moment to grab something to eat before my next flight to New York. I made a beeline for Tortas Frontera and ordered the usual. I was starving. It had been a long day.

I got on board the empty plane for my next flight, and stowed my rolling bag in the last overhead bin in coach — the official crew bag location. In 10 minutes I’d start breaking the ice, meaning setting up the galley. In 15 minutes we’d start boarding.

I was just about to plop down in an empty seat to take a couple of quick bites of dinner when I noticed … something.

Vomit. All over the seat. All over the floor. All over the in-flight magazines, the safety briefing card, and an (unused) airsick bag. I called the captain.

“That’s strange, nobody wrote it up,” he said after checking the log book. “I’ll call the cleaners.”

I know Ebola can only be transferred through bodily fluids from an infected person. Most of the cases have come from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and the likelihood that the sick passenger on this domestic flight — whoever they were — had traveled from one of those places on this plane was slim to none.

Still, it crossed my mind. Of course it crossed my mind.

Two cabin cleaners came on board. One was wearing blue rubber gloves and carrying a spray bottle of disinfectant. She went to work spraying everything in sight — but first she handed those in-flight magazines from the seat pocket to her partner. Who wasn’t wearing gloves.

Not good, I thought, staring at her bare hands.

A few minutes later the woman holding the contaminated SkyMall discovered even more vomit. In the bathroom. All over the walls.

Bet it happened upon landing, I thought. Why else would it have gone unnoticed? Unreported.

“Must have been the Rockies,” said an agent walking briskly down the aisle to the back of the plane, where we all stood staring at the woman with the spray bottle. “We always have sick passengers on these inbound flights.”

The cabin cleaner’s gloved hand now held the bathroom door handle. She leaned against the door and held it open for me to take a peak inside.

“That look OK?”

“Oh … uh … sure,” I said. It did look okay.

But that gloved hand on the handle was an entirely different story.

Before I could say anything the agent determined we were good to go and announced she was sending the passengers down. She had a plane to board and there was no way she was taking a delay.

I watched the cleaners walk up to first class and then off the plane. I couldn’t help but notice the woman still had on the blue gloves, her hands touching a couple of seats on her way out.

Passengers get sick all the time on flights. It’s perfectly normal. It’s why there’s an airsick bag in the seat pocket in front of you. What’s not okay is when I’m passing through the cabin and somebody silently hands me a bag of … wait … what is this? A little heavy. Kinda warm.

But that’s another story.

Anyway, maybe the agent was right. Maybe it was the Rockies. Maybe it was food poisoning. Maybe it was too much alcohol the night before. Or the flu. Who knows.

That’s the problem with my job as a flight attendant: I just don’t know what might be going on when I encounter a sick passenger. But I did know that day that I was 99.9% sure the mystery vomit did not come from a passenger with Ebola.

KEEP READING

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Heather Poole View All →

Yeah, that's me, the one standing in the aisle wearing flammable polyester...

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