How an Air Medical Ambulance Differs from Commercial Airliners
Most people will never have occasion to travel on an air ambulance. For those who find themselves needing one, most don’t know the first thing about what to expect, which is completely understandable. Some people simply assume that riding on a medflight air ambulance is no different than flying on a commercial airliner – with in-flight entertainment, reclining seats, and flight attendants providing food and beverage service. But that's not the case. In fact, there are some very important differences between flying commercially and flying on an air ambulance.
First, it’s important to remember that air ambulances fall into one of two categories: fixed-wing or rotor-wing. Basically, a fixed-wing air ambulance is an airplane and a rotor-wing air ambulance is a helicopter. Today, we'll be talking about fixed-wing air ambulances.
A fixed-wing medflight air ambulance is a plane (either a jet or turbo prop aircraft) that has been specially equipped to transport patients. Inside, instead of rows of seats, you'll find medical equipment – including a specialized stretcher, advanced life support (ALS) system, defibrillator, ventilator and IV pump, as well as tools for electronic documentation and charting, and a complete array of critical care medicines.
When the patient’s particular condition requires it, you'll find additional specialized equipment in the plane, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a handheld blood analyzer, intra-aortic balloon pump, fetal heart and tocodynamometer (toco) monitor, isolette with environmental controls, and low-flow air/oxygen blender.
Aside from being equipped with an array of medical equipment, there are some other key differences between a commercial airliner and an air ambulance:
- Medical crew. Instead of flight attendants, an air ambulance is staffed with a highly trained medical crew, completely focused on the safety and comfort of the patient. (Read about the qualifications of our medflight air ambulance crew.)
- Number of passengers. After accommodating the pilots, medical crew, and patient, there is generally only room for one or maybe two additional passengers on an air ambulance flight. The exception is heavy jets like the Gulf Stream, which often can accommodate multiple passengers.
- Limited space for carry-on luggage. On a medflight air ambulance, passengers are typically limited to one standard-sized piece of carry-on luggage. Don’t expect overhead bin space – there isn’t any. If you have a lot of luggage, you may have to ship it separately. (We're happy to help you make arrangements to get your luggage to your destination; please let us know in advance.)
- Bathroom facilities. Most medically equipped airplanes don't have lavatories. So if you're accompanying a loved on an air ambulance flight, you'll need to use the restroom before boarding the plane.
- Cost. An air ambulance is typically more expensive than air medical transport on a commercial airliner. But there’s a good reason why: while on a commercial airliner you are sharing the cost of the flight itself with numerous other passengers, on an air ambulance you are chartering the plane on your own. In addition, there is far more specialized (and expensive) medical equipment on an air ambulance than a medical escort would bring on a commercial flight.
When a patient needs an air ambulance, it’s often a stressful time for both the patient and her family. Knowing what to expect before you board the aircraft can help ease some of the anxiety. At MedFlight911, we’ll do everything we can to explain the air medical transport process before the trip begins to make sure you feel at ease.