A United Airlines flight from Vancouver, Canada to Houston, Texas on Friday, May 31 had an unexpected illness outbreak onboard with 25-30 passengers having nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea during the flight.

A quick investigation revealed that all the sick flyers had been part of a larger group cruise, indicating a potential norovirus outbreak onboard the ship.

Because of the extensive illness onboard, the Boeing 737 MAX-8 aircraft was met by local emergency responders in Houston to evaluate several ill passengers. The aircraft was then removed from service for deep cleaning, which caused three different flight cancellations.

“United Airlines is actively coordinating with health authorities to address the situation. As a precautionary measure, the aircraft will be removed from service and go through a deep cleaning before returning to service. Ensuring the health and safety of our passengers and crew remains our top priority,” a statement from United Airlines read.

United Airlines Flight in Houston (Photo Credit: John McAdorey)

None of the ill flight passengers required hospitalization. In total, there were 163 passengers and six United Airlines crew members on the impacted flight, while the Boeing 737 Max 8 has a capacity of 189-210, depending on its exact configuration. Of those onboard the aircraft, 75 had been on a cruise prior to their return flight to Texas.

While the cruise line and ship the group had sailed with has not been confirmed, Royal Caribbean International’s Radiance of the Seas is the only vessel to have docked in Vancouver on Friday, May 31. The 90,090-gross-ton ship is offering alternating northbound and southbound Alaska cruises between Seward and Vancouver.

It is possible, however, that the cruise passengers could have been from another recent ship, if the group had spent several days enjoying Vancouver after their cruise, and was only incidentally headed home on May 31.

It is interesting to note, however, that Radiance of the Seas had reported another recent norovirus outbreak. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated a confirmed norovirus outbreak on the ship’s 14-night repositioning cruise from Tampa to Los Angeles from April 8-22.

On that cruise, as the ship began moving into position for the Alaska season, 67 passengers and 2 crew members reported diarrhea and vomiting. Testing confirmed norovirus and protective measures were taken, including isolating ill individuals and enhanced cleaning.

Radiance of the Seas In Vancouver (Photo Credit: Macklin Holloway / Shutterstock)

No sailings of Radiance of the Seas were adjusted either for the earlier outbreak or the most recent sailing. The ship has already departed on her next voyage, a northbound sailing that is scheduled to visit Juneau, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, and Skagway, as well as enjoy scenic cruising near Hubbard Glacier, before arriving in Seward on June 7.

To be clear, it is not confirmed that the travelers on the United Airlines flight were from Radiance of the Seas, only that they were recent cruise passengers.

Norovirus is one of the most common viruses responsible for gastrointestinal symptoms, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, headache, lethargy, and body aches. The illness is commonly called a “stomach bug” or the “stomach flu” and is highly contagious, easily spread through contaminated surfaces, contaminated water, or poor hygiene.

Someone who has contracted norovirus typically develops symptoms within 12-48 hours of exposure. Most individuals overcome the illness within 1-3 days, but could remain contagious for up to two weeks even after feeling recovered.

Read Also: Cruise Ship Illness – How to Protect Yourself

It should be noted that in cruise ship CDC reports of norovirus infections, the numbers reported are for the total cruise, not how many guests may have been ill on the same day. For the earlier outbreak on Radiance of the Seas, for example, the 69 reported cases were over the entire two weeks of the cruise.

Proper and frequent handwashing with warm water and soap, liberal use of hand sanitizer, and minimizing touching high contact surfaces – hand railings, elevator buttons, serving utensils, etc. – can help cruise travelers avoid contracting norovirus when they set sail.

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