By Laura Italiano
There’s first class and there’s business class. But on this flight, everyone flew coronavirus class.
These exclusive photos show the surreal, polyethylene-wrapped aerial hell suffered by 329 American passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship as they were flown back to the US this week — after two weeks quarantined in their cabins off the coast of Yokohama, Japan.
The passengers, each outfitted in cheap face masks, suffered through the 10-odd-hour flight in two cargo planes that had been converted into flying quarantine wards.
Their flight attendants looked like hazmat removal workers — fully suited from head to toe in sterile latex and plastic.
And worst of all, 14 of their fellow passengers were actually infected with the deadly virus, though they showed no symptoms as yet.
It was a long-awaited escape for the passengers, who had been quarantined in their cabins since the ship docked off Japan on Feb. 3, with 3,700 people on board.
The Americans were finally off-loaded from the ship on Sunday — but their ordeal was far from over.
The CDC delivered the bad news — that 14 people among them had just tested positive for the virus — as the passengers rode the bus to the airport in Tokyo.
The State Department’s decision to allow the infected, but asymptomatic, passengers to fly back to the US — rather than to stay in quarantine in Japan — was highly controversial.
The 14 were allowed on the two flights even though the CDC was reportedly adamant that they not come to the US.
And President Trump was “furious” to learn after the fact that the 14 were flown home, the Daily Mail reported.
The photos obtained by the New York Post from one hapless passenger — who has asked to remain anonymous — show his harrowing, 12-hour flight to a quarantine facility at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
His snaps show masked passengers sitting inside one of the two Boeing 747 cargo planes used for the flights across the Pacific.
There were two aisles on the plane, dividing three sections of three seats each, each bolted into a bare-bones, metal floor.
Amenities on his State Department-chartered flight included a tray table each, and access to a row of “toilet modules” — but little, apparently, else.
The plane was not fitted with overhead oxygen masks, and there were no life jackets under the seats.
Instead, a pile of life rafts lay on a pallet on the floor in the back of the plane.
“Since we had NO lifejackets at our seats for a trans-Pacific flight — a bit unnerving,” The Post’s source noted in an email.
“Until you realize that if we had to ditch, the ice cold waters NE of Jaisn, off the Camchatja Islands (Russia), then south of the Aleutians and finally off the coast of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon states would kill us in 5-15 [minutes] with hypothermia, so why bother?”
Instead of in-flight movies, passengers could watch Centers for Disease Control and Prevention personnel move slowly through the cabin with ear thermometers, methodically monitoring each passenger’s temperature.
The CDC personnel wore what The Post’s source called “medical moonsuits” — white protective coverings and pressurized headgear with battery-powered “NBC” air filters. The abbreviation means the filters offer “Nuclear, Biological and Chemical” protection.
Each passenger was tested twice during the flight.
One section of the plane was cordoned off with ceiling-to-floor mylar sheets — an area that the New York Post’s source jokingly called the “Penalty Box.”
Eight passengers in this area had tested positive for the coronavirus.
A six-bed “bio-hazard lab module” — basically a large, pressurized crate that was strapped to the floor of the plane, and designed to be off-loaded, as is, onto a truck or train — awaited any who began to cough and sneeze.
The passenger who shared his on-board photos with The Post also shared photos of the reception area that the passengers were led to at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas on Monday.
Passengers were welcomed into an airport hangar and given Red Cross blankets by still more heavily suited attendants, where they were given more bad news — they are to remain in this new quarantine for another two weeks.
Since the two planes landed — one in Lackland, the other in Travis Air Force base in California — four additional passengers on the planes have tested positive, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been documenting the coronavirus’s spread.
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