Can't I Just Take My Sick/Injured Loved One on a Plane Myself?
Every so often we’ll hear a story about a person dying on a commercial airline flight, or about a disabled, injured, or sick person getting bumped from a flight (or not being allowed to fly at all). It pains us to hear those stories because many of those situations could have been avoided if the patient had hired a professional air medical escort.
We understand why it’s tempting for a patient to try to fly alone, or for a patient’s loved ones to try to transport the patient themselves. The fact is that air medical transport can be expensive and that insurance doesn’t always cover the cost. But when something goes wrong at 35,000 feet, or even on the jet way, the cost of not having a medical escort can be far higher.
Knowing what you need
In the cases we’ve heard about where a patient was denied access to the flight, or even denied passage though security, it’s typically because of confusion about the proper documentation required to bring critical medical supplies past security and onto the airplane. We’ve heard stories of people denied their liquid medications, oxygen concentrators, and other medical necessities because they didn’t have the proper documentation (and rules can vary by country, airline, even airport).
In contrast, a professional medical flight provider has relationships with the medical assistance departments of all the major airlines, both domestic and international, to ensure that the patient’s medical escort has everything required to bring necessary medical equipment on board. At MedFlight911, we know the documentation that’s required, the people we need to talk to, and the steps we need to take to ensure that our patients and all of their medical supplies make it safely and comfortably onto the airplane.
Emergency at 35,000 feet
What happens when a person has a medical emergency at 35,000 feet? Typically, a flight attendant will issue a call for a doctor, nurse or paramedic on board to volunteer to help. That volunteer would be provided access to the airplane’s medical emergency kit, which should include oxygen, basic monitoring equipment, a limited supply of injectable drugs, and oral medication to treat the patient until the flight lands.
Yet for various reasons, doctors are not always available (or willing) to help (in fact, according to an FAA study, medical professionals respond just 69 percent of the time). Commercial flight attendants should know how to use the medical equipment in the plane’s emergency kit, but are certainly not trained medical care providers.
Sometimes – typically in the most extreme emergencies – the pilot may decide to divert the airplane to a nearby airport (the cost potentially the responsibility of the patient). But the pilot won’t always decide to divert the plane, even in extreme emergencies (as in this recent case where a passenger had a heart attack soon after takeoff on a flight from London to Singapore).
When we arrange commercial air medical transports for our clients, the patient is accompanied by a critical care nurse, a critical care paramedic, or a physician – a medical professional who has the expertise and the equipment to handle a medical emergency should one arise. (That said, commercial air medical escorts are only an option for patients who are medically stable and meet certain physical standards. Critically ill or injured patients are best served by an air ambulance transport.)
For all of these reasons, it’s critical to think carefully about the potential risks associated with flying commercially without professional medical assistance if you’re sick or injured. Yes, there is a cost associated with a professional air medical escort (though it might be lower than you think, and insurance might cover the cost), but the costs of not getting medical help can be painfully high.