Should Passengers Who Fly With Covid-19 Be Charged With Negligence – Even Involuntary Manslaughter?

An emergency medical technician who tried to save the life of the United passenger who died with Covid-19 last week came down with Covid-like symptoms. Even though planes are safer than many other indoor environment, the virus can spread inflight – not to mention traveling to and through the airport, waiting at the gate and on the jet bridge all of which generally lack HEPA air filtration.

How does a person with an infectious disease decide to fly in the middle of a global pandemic? How does someone make a choice to potentially infect others, knowing that there’s a chance some of the people exposed along the way could die as a result. It’s clearly reckless – but is it criminally reckless?

Two law professors argue for criminal charges for recklessly exposing others to Covid-19 such as the nursing home employee who attended a wedding, picked up the virus, and went to work exposing residents who later died.

The United States needs to start treating the reckless exposure of others to such risk as what it is: a crime. Whether charged as a violation of public health regulations, reckless endangerment or even criminal assault, the bottom line is that at some point people need to be held accountable for their indifference to the health and safety of others they interact with. And with the evolving ability to establish a real evidentiary link between such reckless indifference and a resulting COVID-19 death, even the prospect of involuntary manslaughter prosecution is not out of the question.

Another legal scholar explicitly applies this to flying after a positive Covid-19 test like the United passenger did who died while enroute from Orlando to Los Angeles – and poses this question about the man’s wife, “his wife knew, and perhaps encouraged him to fly, knowing that he had symptoms. Could she be charged on some sort of accomplice liability theory?”

Of course arresting more people with Covid-19 means placing them in indoor congregant settings where the virus might spread even further.

Should knowingly flying with Covid-19 be considered a criminal act?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I’m not an attorney but why should they treat someone who knowingly places others at risk of a potentially deadly disease any different than a drunk driver. In some ways it’s worse than a drunk driver, as the drunk driver is impaired. Or maybe he bought into the mask myth that as long as I don’t take my mask off everyone else is safe? Since the spouse knew that he had tested positive I would think she could be charged because she had a duty to notify the airline. Why are these people that are hosting private bar parties not being charged? California is on lock down and yet their cases are spiking? Why? They think it’s private parties. I don’t buy into all of this virus stuff but I don’t do things that are reckless or endanger others.

  2. It’s a tough one, but this seems like a slippery slope. I understand that there is a difference between the two, but should someone be charged for flying with the flu? What about walking around town? How about going to the drug store?

    When you legislate for stupid, things can get a bit too restrictive. Plus, all we do here is throw people in jail which ends up costing society a lot more than it’s worth. I’d say heavy fines (at most), and make it non-criminal.

  3. OneXMarine:
    So anyone who shows up at work ill should be charged? Just asking. Some months ago I had a waitress at Denny’s serve me and I refused the food because she was coughing. We spoke and I recognized the symptoms of pneumonia .She told me she couldn’t afford to not work.
    It’s a tough call. How do you keep someone who lives off tips from showing up at work sick?

    BTW she was in the hospital for 4 days starting later that day. I’m not a doc but I’ve had pneumonia twice and the first time thought it was a heart attack.

  4. I remember several years ago there was an American who knowingly had a rare drug-resistant TB and travelled on a few flights in Europe. There was then a manhunt by the CDC and fed govt to get hold of him but I don’t recall if what he did was criminal or not. I’d say that sounds similar to what’s happening now with covid-19 positive patients who know their diagnosis choosing to fly.

  5. There is a big difference between having pneumonia and COVID. While I don’t feel it’s all that deadly to healthy people, especially on an aircraft there can be elderly folks who you could put their lives at risk. Last I heard pneumonia is not contagious. I’ve had pneumonia once and it wasn’t fun. I hope you have gotten your pneumonia vaccine. I’m told that once you have it you become easier to develop it again and each time you have it the worse it gets. I’m not a Doc either.

  6. @loungeabuser makes an excellent point, and it’s difficult to really hold people responsible when there’s insufficient social safety net like some sort of basic income / short-term unemployment benefit / universal health care.

    Common sense says that if you have a infectious disease, even a very mild one, you should avoid going to work and exposing others to unnecessary health risk. The reality is that all of us frequently went into public places with a cold, the flu, or worse. We can’t build a culture of accountability if the vast majority of us don’t have the support to act in an accountable manner.

    In the case of travel, the equivalent safety net is risk-free cancellation policies, which Gary had argued for a few months back and airlines have actually implemented. Kudos on the positive movement… and yup, even less excuse now for the United passenger and his wife.

  7. It would likely apply to participating in any activities that could risk infecting others. Not just travel. But yes, I can see the arguement. But you would need a positive test to prove intent.

    However, would it not have the unintended consequence of less testing? Far fewer people might want to be tested if it opened them up to criminal or civil liability.

  8. Covid is a deadly and highly contagious disease – if someone knowingly boards a plane with it, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – if someone on the a United Flight became ill and dies I don’t not see why their estate could not Sue for involuntary manslaughter- people keep on acting like idiots- if they just took responsibility our numbers would not be this bad and would potentially be manageable- but we have idiots going out and knowingly spreading the disease and purposely putting others at risk

  9. @toomanybooks – Unfortunately that is the future if we don’t get off these shutdowns and border crossing closures. Small business employees over 50% of the people in this country. My banker is telling me that they are expecting a flood of business closures beginning in January and expanding after that. I don’t know how the restaurant business is even still around. How do you survive on 25% – 50% capacity?

  10. If someone flies knowing or having reason to know they have covid (meaning if they have symptoms or known covid exposures and refuse to get tested) they should be fully liable civilly for all damages to anyone harmed and put on the no fly list until the pandemic is over. If someone takes airlines that require a negative test and they forge test results then they should be sent to jail. . The US is seeing record hospitalizations on an almost daily basis. Enough of playing around with these covidiots

  11. should be part of contract upon purchase that you knowingly are aware that you do not have COVID_19

  12. I might have had a small cold one time when flying… i wasn’t sick or anything when the flight started, but I sneezed and coughed three times during the flight. Should I report to jail now and burden the taxpayers for paying for my food, Healthcare, and everything else now?

  13. In terms of the nursing home employees who went to a wedding that was violating state rules and then when to work and six of their patients got covid and died I am very comfortable with them being prosecuted criminally. To me that is easily among the most abhorrent conduct.

  14. If you knowingly put others in harms way it is a crime.there is nuance. But yes, fundamentally it is right for society.

  15. I think it would be difficult to sue someone for infecting others with Covid. How would you know who to sue when the symptoms don’t show up for weeks after exposure. Furthermore, I’d bet there are far more asymptomatic passengers on a plane, all equally contagious, than this one example of where someone died.

  16. I love idiots like Bill who think everything can be legislated. Stay home if you’re scared. Wear a mask if you think it will help. As people start getting vaccines, mask wearing will quickly be a thing of the past.

  17. I would do legal research to see what laws govern against having HIV and spreading it reckless sex. Spreading Covid should be similar.

  18. @derek having HIV and COVID are two different things. It has been proven that being HIV positive with an undetectable makes it statistically impossible for you to pass the HIV infection along.

    It is different of course if you are knowingly having a high viral load and participating in unprotected sex.

    Just like flying after a positive test.

  19. wait, I thought masks worked really well? So, why would anyone be worried if everyone is required to have a mask on?

    Also, love the self righteous indignation of people on the internet.
    ‘Lock up anyone who doesn’t believe what I believe!’
    lol, the same type of thinking that got us into this mess.

  20. Re: George

    Masks reduce aerosols and risk, they do not eliminate it. How were they suppose to chest compressions, check breathing, and maybe bag mask the covid dude on the plane with his mask on? Thats like saying condoms are 100% effective so people with HIV shouldn’t have to reveal their status as long as they wear one. Idiotic. I loathe these specious arguments anti maskers/covid minimizers use – twisting logic opportunistically to fit their narrative of the day.

  21. Perhaps worth looking at how other countries are approaching this. European countries, for example, have heavy fines for those not wearing a mask. In India, the Supreme Court recently said that those not wearing a mask are violating other citizens’ fundamental right to life.

  22. A few months ago a young lady invaded my 6 ft space at Walgreens who required face masks. She didn’t. I asked her to please give me 6 ft ((I was paying at the counter so should not be the one to move). She responded by intentionally coughing in my face and then leaving.
    Is that assault? I thought perhaps it was and would have been justified in belting her in the chops.

  23. At the beginning of my United flight last week, they played a video demonstrating why and for various reasons, the chances of spreading Covid on a plane is absolutely de minimus. I’m aware of various tracking studies which were unable to confirm more than a tiny handful of transmissions in the air, out of millions of infections. If anybody were to actually get infected, the chance that they might perish from the disease is a fraction of one percent, and those who are particularly vulnerable have a duty to protect themselves. If flying with Covid exposes one manslaughter charges, so would many other things we do everyday without thinking about them, which have risks of causing death of the same general magnitude.

  24. I don’t know how many of you read the other post but most are in agreement. I saw law or no law try to prosecute, that will make someone think twice about doing harm to others. I have concerns maybe not as drastic as OneXMarine and toomanybooks many businesses will not survive. The entire PPP program is a mess, yes we would probably be gone if it was not for the first round. But no one can be certain about the tax implications. Does it have to be counted as income if no then can you deduct the expense? I would have made different decisions if not for the PPP money, for that matter I would have made different decisions if I knew the rules for spending the PPP money were going to change as much as they did. As a small business, we are certainly struggling and hopeful we can continue to survive for the future of my coworkers and the businesses we support with our services. But out of all, I read here the one post that actually caused anxiety or as my wife says fight or flight syndrome is Fathiss’s post. I would want to belt her in the chops as well and know it would not end well for anyone. I just step away avoid clusters of people and act responsibly. On a lighter note Spell check wanted to fix toomanybooks, I never paid enough attention to what it really said. too many books.

  25. From a legal standpoint, I think the key is knowingly placing others in danger. In other words, they had a positive diagnosis. That would be similar to having unprotected sex when you know you are HIV-positive. But then I have sympathy for the slippery slope theory as well. What if you are diagnosed with the common flu? People die from the flu as well. Should we put people in jail for that?

    That said, there should be some sort of sanction whether it’s a fine or incarceration for knowingly putting others in danger.

  26. In issues such as this one, there might be legitimate ‘slippery slope’ considerations or arguments that apply – OR the usual denier and personal rights arguments that consistently and blindly ignore the rights and needs of the many- the goal in any democratic or even civilized society.
    By any reasonable measure, this disease (the virus- not willful ignorance) is far more dangerous and difficult to deal with than any flu we’ve seen in the past hundred years, so if that’s where our society best decides to draw the line in order to protect ourselves, as we have in the case of drunk driving, that means we’ve reasonably and clearly decided it’s NOT ‘the same as the flu,’ and people should be held accountable for knowingly putting others at risk.
    How well so many of us could do with some basic education in civics- where enough perspective might be gained in order to put some of our selfishness aside.

  27. “Covid is a deadly and highly contagious disease…”

    Heck, yeah, it’s killed about .005% of the people infected. I visit a number of sites on a regular basis and the crowd here is near the top for swallowing the CovidCon and all the fallacies pumped out by government and the media. Most of the people on this site, including the blog owner, appear incapable of critical thought.

  28. @ James N – You have to have pretty thick skin to go against the crowd here but I’m with you. My wife, daughter, and myself have all had it and I’m 71 with high blood pressure and it wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. That being said it’s sad whenever you lose a loved one but that is part of life. I too believe it’s all about control and the fact they are in so deep they can’t see a way out other than to keep on digging. And remember, a lot of folks on here are airline personnel, or as I prefer to refer to them now as “professional beggars!”

  29. Those who are HIV-positive and knowingly infect others by not taking precautions have been prosecuted. COVID-19 is a potentially deadly disease, those who are notified that their test is positive are told to isolate to prevent infecting others. When they purposely choose to ignore public health and endanger others on a plane, at a store, at a family gathering, or elsewhere – they should be charged. Enough is enough, covid prevention is not about politics, it’s about people and keeping everyone safe.

  30. It is abhorrent for someone who knows they have Covid to be in a congregate setting. I can understand the argument that such people should be prosecuted. I don’t think it should be criminal unless it can be proven that this specific person caused infection/death.
    I also think that this whole Covid restriction stuff is ridiculous. I don’t believe in mandates. There should be recommendations, not restrictions. I think there would be better overall compliance than with all these mandates and restrictions. People are so sick of all the hypocrisy. The more vulnerable will obviously be more careful.
    On another note, we have spent trillions of dollars on Covid, much of that to deal with the results of the shutdowns. The shutdowns were put in place “so that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed”. I wonder whether we’ve actually increased hospital capacity. Certainly some of those funds should have been directed to that cause.

    While I’m on the Covid topic, I always feel the need to discuss the latest from Dr Fauci. How can anyone possibly still trust this guy?? Beginning of the pandemic he said masks are of very limited help. Then he claimed that he only said that to protect the supply. Now it’s the same thing with herd immunity. Initially herd immunity would be achieved
    at 70% vaccinated, now it’s 85%. The reason given for the discrepancy was “because more people seem willing to take the vaccine and “new science”. Right, and I have a bridge in NYC to sell you! Dr Fauci is a disgrace to science, and is singlehandedly creating new anti-vaxers. Happy birthday doc, but please retire already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *