A passenger reaches to push the call button for the flight attendant
What To Know Just In Case There's A Medical Emergency On Your Flight
Fainting is the most common emergency caused by cabin pressure, getting up too fast, and anxiety. Nausea and vomiting also happen often.
Common Emergencies
If a contagious disease is suspected, the passenger could be isolated. Respiratory, cardiovascular, and trauma issues can usually be managed with onboard equipment and basic CPR.
Strokes, seizures, allergic reactions, and cardiac arrest aren't as common but are considered the most life-threatening due to the timing, lack of resources, and expertise needed.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandates U.S. commercial flights to have a first aid kit, an automated external defibrillator (AED), and an emergency medical kit.
On Board
Unfortunately, onboard medical kits can be insufficient, or the crew might lack the training and expertise for life-saving interventions or administering the supplies.
There is a push to update the equipment, but airlines have yet to make any significant changes. In June 2023, Congress members encouraged the review of the kit and processes.
In the U.S., flight attendants must undergo proper CPR training and demonstrate the use of an AED, with evaluations every two years.
Flight attendants are trained to comfort passengers in distress and are usually prepared for panic or anxiety attacks. If you fear flying, let them know when you board.
Nevertheless, they are not medical professionals. The crew will seek ground support and onboard medical volunteers if the emergency calls for skills outside their abilities.
While not FAA-mandated, airlines use remote emergency response centers that give 24-hour emergency assistance via satellite phones, radios, and apps from the ground.
Ground Support
In a medical emergency, the crew informs the pilot, who contacts the ground-based medical team and the airline's operations center, collectively choosing the course of action.
The licensed medical professionals can authorize the crew to dispense medications and advise the captain to reroute the plane to the nearest medical facility or to stay on course.
When the crew asks, "Is there a doctor on board?" they mean anyone with a medical background, including nurses, EMTs, paramedics, pharmacists, and even dentists.
Your chances of having a medical professional on board are good, but expertise isn't guaranteed. Studies reveal that onboard medical volunteers often felt ill-equipped to assist.
Despite ethical considerations, American medical professionals have no legal obligation to intervene during an in-flight emergency on U.S. domestic and many international flights.