The 38-year-old woman, who has asthma, was travelling from Las Vegas to Dallas on flight 208 on 24 July when she started to have difficulty breathing.
She used her inhaler and was given oxygen, to no avail.
A flight attendant attempted CPR after the woman had lost consciousness, and passed out herself from the exertion.
The plane was diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where medics attempted to revive the woman on the boarding bridge, but she was pronounced dead at the airport.
Despite the fact that investigators learned within two days that the woman had tested positive for coronavirus, this information was not fed back to any other passengers, including those who had been sitting near her on the aircraft.
Local police and fire departments were informed, but the health department, having received the positive Covid result directly from the lab rather than the Office of the Medical Investigator, did not investigate further or discover that the woman had been on a flight when she died, reports the Washington Post.
This meant it failed to launch a tracing process with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Spirit Airlines claims to have alerted the CDC as soon as it became aware of the coronavirus diagnosis, but alleges that a passenger manifest was ever requested for contact tracing purposes.
Meanwhile, the CDC says it has no record of being contacted by Spirit.
The story highlights the gaps in the US process when it comes to passengers on flights testing positive for Covid-19, with the responsibilities for contact tracing shared between airlines and local, state and federal officials.
A spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants said: “The lack of a federal Covid-19 plan for aviation has been a problem throughout the pandemic.
“As a result of this inaction, there is a patchwork of policies and procedures that inevitably leaves gaps.”
It follows the news thatUS airline have refused to collect and store passenger datathat would aid in tracing and contacting those who may have contracted coronavirus on flights.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been warning since 2005 that a lack of passenger information hampers its ability to track cases of illness and contact those who may have also become infected, reports The New York Times.
At present, it only has access to data on around half of all travellers per flight, as anyone who has booked through a third-party website such as an online travel agent does not have personal information available on the flight manifest.
This means that, during an outbreak, it’s tough for the CDC to get in touch with every passenger who may have come into contact with a disease carrier.
The CDC said it needed just five bits of information on each traveller: name, phone number, email address, address where they’d be staying in the United States and emergency contact information.
However, airlines have continued to lobby strongly against collecting more passenger data when people check-in for flights, arguing that they would need to overhaul entire computer systems – a task they claim would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and at least a year to undertake.
This article originally appeared on The Independent