How Much Luggage Can I Bring on an Air Ambulance?
And the answer in almost every case (except for motor coach) is: Not much.
Luggage capacity on an air ambulance: To begin with, the kinds of airplanes that we typically use for our air ambulance service have essentially as much room as a typical elevator. Shaped like a long tube. Air ambulances are specially-configured to provide medical care (see a list of all the equipment they’re fitted with – which takes up a lot of space). Add in a pilot and co-pilot; physician, respiratory therapist, critical care nurse, and/or paramedic; patient, and passenger(s) and there’s really not much room left for anything else. Really.
There is no cargo hold and there are no overhead bins on the vast majority of air ambulance planes. And while we always strapped a few bags (or a sibling – just kidding) to the roof of our station wagon on summer trips growing up, the FAA doesn’t let us do that to airplanes.
Luggage capacity on a commercial air medical escort: When we do a commercial air medical escort (where a critical care paramedic, nurse, or technician travels with the patient on a commercial airline), the airline’s typical luggage allowances (and fees) apply. But the medical escort’s primary responsibility is ensuring the patient’s safety and wellbeing – he doesn’t have much extra attention to handle a bunch of luggage. We can explore the cost of hiring a skycap to help with luggage; we can also explore the shipment alternatives I describe below.
Luggage capacity on a ground medical escort: The exception to the minimal luggage requirements for medical transports is our ground medical escort service. Though we do sometimes arrange transport by train, most often our ground medical transport is by motor coach. Here, there is typically plenty of room for a few standard pieces of luggage. And, we can also attach a trailer to the motor coach – to carry furniture or even a car.
So, what to do? We recently arranged an air ambulance transport for a patient from Houston, Texas to Chicago, Illinois. In addition to the patient, there were two passengers – which meant that the space normally reserved for carry-on luggage was gone (typically there is only one passenger on an air ambulance transport). The crew tried their best, but the passengers’ four carry-on suitcases simply wouldn’t fit inside the aircraft.
So I quickly made a call to UPS. They quoted me $650 to ship the four bags to Chicago. That seemed pretty outrageous to me. So I called Greyhound – yes, the bus line. They took the four bags for $150. Even adding in $50 for a cab on both sides to get the bags to and from the bus station, it was still a much less expensive solution.
There are two morals to this story: 1) we beg of you, let us help you – in advance of your medical transport – find an alternative means of getting your luggage to your final destination; and 2) Greyhound – surprisingly enough – can be a really economical way to do that.