U.S. Airlines To Provide for Midair Health Emergencies

National Geographic News
April 27, 2001

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just ruled that all American airlines must carry heart defibrillators and medical kits on all but the smallest of aircraft to aid in midair health emergencies. National Geographic Today anchor Susan Roesgen interviewed Traveler consumer news editor Norie Quintos Danyliw about the FAA ruling, which is the subject of the smart traveler feature in the May issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Norie, what's the significance of this FAA ruling?

The significance is there's a great potential to save lives. Defibrillators can help people, but only within about the first ten minutes of a heart attack. So that's why they're so important in planes because planes often can't land quickly enough to help a heart attack victim.

Well do these defibrillators really work as well as defibrillators on the ground, can they actually save lives?

Well they're pretty much the same grade as the hospital ones that you get, so yes, they can in fact [save lives]. American [Airlines], which installed these defibrillators about three years ago, estimates that it's saved about 15 lives already.

How often do medical emergencies happen in the air?

Not that often. The estimates show that about eight out of every million passengers might experience a medical emergency in flight, but the point is that the estimates are going to go up, because as the largest segment of the American traveling public ages, and that's the boomers—and we all know they're not going to stop traveling— it's going to be more of a concern.

More people to fly then more potential for problems—are the airlines really prepared to handle more medical emergencies in flight?

Some experts say no. One of the big problems is the system still relies on medical professional volunteers—doctors, nurses, and paramedics coming forward and volunteering—and in some cases that's not actually happening. One statistic shows us that in about 40 percent of medical emergencies there were no expert volunteers. So it's a problem.

What's a smart traveler supposed to do then?

Talk to your doctor, and if you have a medical condition and your doctor says not to fly, heed that advice. Now if you are sick and do absolutely need to fly, American [Airlines] just launched a program where you can have a nurse fly with you as a companion, and you do pay a fee but the airfare is discounted.

Continued on Next Page >>




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