In all my years of travel I can count on one hand the number of times an onboard emergency has caused medical personnel to even have to come onto the aircraft and remove a passenger before the rest of the plane is able to disembark. While I’ve been on plenty of planes that had to divert — because of weather, fuel, and the President’s flight path — I don’t recall ever diverting because someone onboard had taken ill.
Dr. Peter Maguire is a British Airways Concorde Room cardholder, and American recently started treating BA’s top customers as ConciergeKeys. So he’s well looked after on those times he does fly American.
And it seems every time he flies American he’s at the right place at the right time. On all three of his American Airlines trips in the past year — in March, August, and January — he’s been pressed into service to assist in a medical emergency.
Credit: Dr. Peter Maguire
The routes had nothing in common other than being longer flights — Los Angeles to Orlando, Phoenix to Honolulu, and most recently London to Dallas.
In mid-January the doctor was flying business class in the forward mini-cabin. Midway over the Atlantic perhaps halfway between Keflavik and Gander the Purser onboard approached him to ask for assistance (he makes it a practice to identify himself prior to departure so the crew know he’s available to help if needed).
A passenger reportedly collapsed and was nonresponsive. He found they were dehydrated and suffering a hypoglycaemia attack. He felt the flight could continue, and monitored the passenger until they reached Dallas. (Unlike Tim Tebow, he’s an actual doctor.)
We most often hear about incidents when they involve celebrities, for instance Carrie Fisher going into cardiac arrest on United before the Christmas holiday and eventually passing away.
Copyright: chrisdorney / 123RF Stock Photo
The first female flight attendant was Ellen Church, hired at United in 1930. She was a registered nurse, and for half a dozen years this became a requirement — something that lasted at US airlines in some part until World War II. Aircraft weren’t the same smooth rides back then that they are (most of the time) today. Now we have to luck into a doctor on board.
Lufthansa has a formal ‘Doctor on Board’ program where doctors sign up and receive 5000 miles, pre-identify themselves, and arrange liability waiver in advance. Pre-registration is one way to solve Delta’s doctor problem. Lufthansa reports about 3000 onboard medical emergencies each year and over 50 diversions.
American Airlines thanks doctors as well, with a travel voucher. On each of the 3 recent occasions Dr. Maguire has received a letter from American like this one:
Regarding American’s expression of thanks he says “Isn’t it a wonderful expression of thanks!” and he shares,
I am very highly impressed with the AA medical kit onboard. I’ve used the kit on both a 773 (long-haul) and 757 (domestic) recently. I have to praise the professionalism and competence of wonderful flight attendants on my recent experiences. Wonderful people. It is really good to have such wonderful care and assistance from good, caring people.
I may complain about onboard service like not receiving predeparture beverages in first class but it’s great to know — from someone who would know, and has several data points — that American’s flight attendants react well in emergencies.
Dr. Maguire looks forward to an upcoming Dublin – Chicago trip on American. Here’s hoping no one falls ill on that flight, but anyone traveling with him can be comforted knowing there’s a doctor onboard prepared to help if necessary.
American Airlines Boeing 787-8 in Chicago
(Thanks to TravelZork for introducing me to Dr. Maguire.)
How much was the voucher?
Interesting he declares at the beginning of the flight. The couple times I’ve been on a flight it’s not until the second announcement that anyone springs to action (I assume waiting for someone else to volunteer first)
AFAIK doctors should not accept anything in return for medical services because it exposes them to liability vs. just being a good samaritan. Maybe because he’s British, he’s less worried about being sued in American courts…
I am a paramedic and have also assisted with medical emergencies numerous times over the years. I also pre-identify myself on boarding (and for your info at least in the US there is a federal good Samaritan law that protect us).
Most recently was in December on Lufthansa (and no I am not pre-registered and they also did not ask for my credentials though I offered to show them). The flight attendants were very helpful and professional on LH and on all other flights where I have assisted (UA, LH, DL and others).
I have in the past received everything from a bottle of champagne, a voucher for a duty free purchase to an Amex gift card. I have never ever asked – always just was given it and in the case of the Amex card received an unexpected thank you letter from the LH chief medical officer.
I received a $50 SW voucher for helping the crew correctly dose Tylenol and ibuprofen for a passenger with tooth pain. Easiest consult I’ve ever seen. Thanks for the tip on the Lufthansa program. I plan to look into that.
Late 2015/early 2016, the call went out in 3 of 4 flights I was on. On the last episode, we actually diverted because the passenger/patient was in respiratory distress. The stethoscopes were horrible (or my ears aren’t as good as they could be), so I started carrying my electronic stethoscope and a mini kit with gloves, a for mask and a pulse ox monitor. The kit must be magic, because there’s been no requests for a “doctor on board” since.
I usually decline to fill out the paperwork out of concern about liability. The one time I did, I was promised $100 voucher, but it never showed up. No nice notes from the airline, either.
I’ve had one flight with a diversion due to medical. We had a passenger flatline on a flight LAX-ORD. Somewhere between New Mexico and west Texas the passenger went into cardiac arrest and they emergency landed in Amarillo, got him off and resuscitated and the had to refuel, refine flight plans and got us into ORD.
I’d say very few doctors are actually qualified to attend to a true medical emergency. I’m not sure I want a dermatologist or plastic surgeon bothering to respond to my cardiac arrest.
So, the fee for treatment from a UK doctor is an airline ticket. In the US, the copay alone would be the cost of a Round Trip First Class ticket to and from anywhere in the world, followed by a payment from the insurance company that is substantial enough to pay for a luxury 14 day/13 night cruise to Alaska, or wherever.
On a low cost high fee airline, or for Delta Economy Basic/Cargo class passengers, the FA would probably take the patients credit card and, due to his state of incapacitation, authorize the copay on his behalf. If it’s an airline card, think all of the points.
No need to divert, in fact more incentive to circle.
You’d rather have a dermatologist than nobody.
I must have bad luck. Call has gone out for medical assistance 8 times whilst ive been on a plane and once on eurostar. Fortunately never been anything serious.
Didn’t get anything but a verbal thank you, which is fine. Although once i moved seats to let a family sit together and got free champagne haha.
Ha, I had an episode last year where the flight attendant was passed out in the rear gallery (same situation as above, hypoglycemic attack) and I helped her (snickers and orange juice). Definitely no voucher and the next time I flew, they wouldn’t let me check in my suitcase 40 minutes early and had to be switched to a later flight that was delayed three hours. So overall got to see my kids about five hours late. Thanks American.