A father-of-three has been left scratching his head after his family was kicked off a Delta Airlines flight - all because his son had nits.
In an article penned for Out Kick the Coverage, lawyer and Fox Sports analyst Clay Travis explained that he and his wife were travelling home to Nashville from Paris with their three sons, aged nine, six and two, when his middle boy discovered, "he had lice halfway over the Atlantic Ocean". The family was quarantined, examined and prevented from completing their onward journey.
"While he was standing in line for the bathroom, my six-year-old started to scratch his head," Travis wrote. "My wife checked to see why he was scratching his head and saw then that he had lice. Several flight attendants rushed over too and peered down at my son's head. 'Oh, my God, he has lice,' they said."
And that, according to Travis, was only the beginning.
When the plane landed at Minneapolis, instead of joining their connecting flight to Nashville, the Travis family was informed that they would have to leave the airport. But not before being quarantined and examined by paramedics.
"The airline brought two medical people onto the plane," Travis wrote. "I don't know who these people were or who employed them, but they said, 'We need to examine your children.' This seemed strange to me — is it really airline policy now to conduct physical examinations of six year olds? — but all they wanted to do was take my kids' temperatures. My kids were both healthy so I said fine and they took the temperatures and neither of the older boys had a fever."
While standing in customs, after being allowed to exit the plane, Travis' six-year-old was asked to submit to yet another medical examination. When Travis refused to give permission, he was told they would not be permitted to catch their next Delta flight.
"At that point what options did I have?" Travis noted.
With a diagnosis of nits confirmed, the family were informed that they would need to access medical treatment before boarding another Delta flight. And when asked where they should do so, the Travis' were told "the emergency room."
It wasn't just an annoyance and added expense, however, for the family of five. The incident left Travis' middle son distressed, too.
"My six-year-old pulled me aside and said, 'It's all my fault that we can't go home, daddy. I'm sorry that I have lice.
"He was nearly crying when he said it. Which, if you're a parent, just breaks your heart," he wrote.
Acknowledging that "airlines and their employees have tough jobs," and need to protect their passengers, Travis noted, "virtually every large plane in America today has a passenger with lice. It's just that common. And every plane flight certainly has at least one person with a communicable disease of one sort or another..."
"I can't help but think Delta totally mishandled this situation and needs to reconsider their policies."
The response to the Travis family's ordeal has been mixed, many commenters agreeing with the airline's stance.
"Excuse me ma'am, just want to inform you that the passenger previously in your seat has head lice." wrote Victoria Fox in a comment endorsed by hundreds. " Would YOU sit here?? Your self entitlement and selfishness to expose and infect potentially many others to your sons head lice is exactly what's wrong with the MEMEME society."
Others, however, agreed that Delta's actions were extreme.
"Crazy world we live in," wrote Kaye Miles. "Raise hell with Delta and get your money reimbursed."
In a statement issued to Forbes, Delta Airlines confirmed that they do not have a specific "head lice policy".
Delta spokesperson, Anthony Black said, "Our flight attendants rely on their broad skill sets to make recommendations around passengers' fitness-to-fly," Black continued. "I do not have specific details on what the flight attendants did with the child. It appears the flight was met by local paramedics."
Delta Airlines also told Inc that they were working directly with the Travis' to "resolve the issue". "We will always prioritise the health of our customers and employees as safety is our top priority,' they added. The airline also noted that passengers could be removed, " When [they have] a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers during the normal course of the flight," under their "refusal to transport" rules.
Richard Pollack, a Harvard public health entomologist and head lice specialist, (he co-authored an article on the over-diagnosis of head lice in 2000) told Forbes, "Children who have lice should not be considered diseased. They may be infested, but it's not a disease."
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Head lice are not known to transmit any disease and therefore are not considered a health hazard."
But what of the risk to passengers of catching rogue lice from their seat?
"You can share lice with somebody else, but it's mainly by direct head-to-head contact," Pollack said.
Why? They can't fly or jump.
"In the laboratory, it's difficult to keep them alive from one day to the next without feeding them. They tend to starve to death." As such, transmission via plane seat is unlikely.
And as for the airline's suggestion of seeking treatment in an emergency department?
"I think you'd have trouble in this country finding an attending (staff physician) in an emergency room who actually knows what lice look like," Pollack said. "I teach medical students every year. I know for the most part these medical students don't see lice during their medical education, unless they take a parasitology course or open a book to the wrong page."