To some up my question:

If a super contagious disease broke out in the middle of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), what would be the response by the US government?

Long explanation:

I had an idea of a story where essentially a man comes in off a flight walks into the middle of LAX airport, coughs up his lungs (literally), and dies.

My idea for the story is that the government manages to quarantine LAX off before anyone can leave, trapping people inside LAX with this deadly virus and each other.

Is this possible in real life?

What would the government’s real reaction to this be?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the traveler is international and discovered before clearing customs, then the US CDC will quarantine and/or isolate and/or track down the likely contacted folks. However, if the traveler is domestic (within the USA), then they will be transported to a local hospital, and nobody will be quarantined. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Nov 24, 2019 at 0:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If only one person coughs up like that, officials may not consider virus at first. Make it three or four folks from the same flight, then you’ll have a contagion hypothesis. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 24, 2019 at 5:14

2 Answers 2


A lot of people don't realise that the government doesnt have fleets of helicopters, vehicles, prefab facilities, and battalions of personel idling on the tarmac eady to show up at a moments notice for something like that. The government can't even begin gearing up a response until a problem is detected. A guy barfing up a lung in an airport actually isnt going to immiediatley set off the plague alarms.

It could be cancer, or poison, or maybe a rare congenital defect. Nobody is actually going to know the cause of death until an autopsy is performed. Until that autopsy is finished nobody will know and no response will be organized. By that point closing down the airport would be a moot point as it will have been atleast a day, possibly 3 or 4 since all the people he infected already flew away or dispersed off into LA. Plus, quarantining an airport totally is actually a MASSIVE operation. Its going to take atleast a week to get everything together to conduct an operation of that scale. So by the time you'd even have the stuff together to quarantine the airport people are already coughing up thier lungs on their favorite hollywood icons plaques on the walk of fame.

So, in conclusion, LAX would not be quarantined because the way a government response even detects that there is a problem doesn't happen fast enough, let alone the time it takes to gear up such a response. The only way it would be possible is if they already knew the man was infected before he got there and which flight he was on. In which case the flight would be diverted to a military airport and they'd just quarantine the passengers and crew of the plane.


"Super-contagious" yet with a short enough incubation period to be contracted, show symptoms, become contagious, and kill the host in (essentially) the course of a single day makes it easy.

First, it's terribly unlikely that any such awful disease will appear out of nowhere. It likely would have appeared before, and we would have experience with it, and countermeasures (vaccines, routine quarantine, etc.) already built in to society. We have experience with measles, polio, smallpox, malaria, and many others...and they are both terrifying and real.

Second, the disease will burn itself out in a few days. Within the first few hours of news breaking, many folks will barricade themselves in their homes...and many of them will survive. After their neighbors succumb and die, they can emerge, wait for the power to come back on, bury their neighbors, and resume their lives. Since the infection will ravage the entire neighborhood within a day or two, folks need not even worry about starving.


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