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Bedbugs: Something Special in the Sky?

Planning to get some shut eye on your next long flight? Don’t let the bedbugs bite! Consumer website reports that Patricia Sweeney, a passenger on a Delta flight from Atlanta to New York, claims she was bitten by insects multiple times during her trip. She also alleges that after informing the new flight crew of her bites on a connecting Delta flight to Ireland, the flight attendants told her to either leave the flight and get medical treatment or be moved to the back of the plane (despite the fact that Sweeney had paid extra for an economy comfort class seat).

Since Sweeney’s bug bites occurred before her second flight, and were not connected to her seat on the new flight, why would the crew ask her to move to the back of the plane? One theory: Perhaps they wanted to keep any potential infestation confined to the poor schlubs in coach instead of potentially infecting the higher-paying passengers toward the front of the plane. All we have at this point are theories, because the airline is not commenting on its crew’s decision to move Sweeney.

Delta’s insurance company, United States Aviation Underwriters, does have something to say about the presence (or lack thereof) of bedbugs on its planes, however. This again courtesy of

“We reviewed the pictures and it is apparent that there is some type of skin irritation. However, as of this date, we have not received any reports from other passengers making the same allegations. If perchance the aircraft was infected, it would not be limited to one seat. In addition the Board of Health would be alerted and the aircraft fumigated … Although we sincerely regret that you associate your discomfort with your flight on Delta, it is unclear as to exactly where, how and what you were subjected to, to cause this reaction. Even though we do not view this as a case of liability against our insured, we are prepared to make a goodwill offer of $500 to help defray your medical expenses. Again, this is strictly a gesture of goodwill and should in no way be misconstrued as an admission of any liability.”

Sweeney opted to fly in the downgraded seat, and was later offered a $200 voucher, a refund for her economy comfort class upgrade, and $500 towards the cost of her medical expenses. Sweeney claims the bugs were most likely bedbugs or fleas, and that she probably contracted them on Delta’s planes or in their terminal. Delta, as you can see from the statement above, disagrees.

Let’s suppose for a moment Delta is right and the bites did not come from bugs on its plane. The flight crew at the time could not have known that, nor could they have known whether or not Sweeney could infect other passengers. Given that, do you think the airline mishandled the situation by moving a potentially infected passenger to the back of the plane? And how do you protect yourself from bedbugs when you travel?



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