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Crewed Talk: What NOT to Do During an In-Flight Medical Emergency

Crewed Talk: What NOT to Do During an In-Flight Medical Emergency
Sarah Steegar


There I was, futzing in the First Class galley around 2 a.m., when a woman came up from Coach. She was pale, had her arms pressed over her stomach, and said she didn’t feel well. Then, suddenly, she collapsed to the floor. Oh dear, I thought. Here we go!

She was conscious and answering questions. As the woman and I discussed her situation, we were surprised by an announcement overhead. “If there are any doctors on board,” it began, and it made me wonder: How did they know — and already decide to call for a physician?! Oh well, probably not a bad idea.

Turns out, they didn’t know. Something was happening in the back of the aircraft, and it wasn’t just a second ill passenger causing an issue; it was a lot of what not to do during an onboard medical emergency. Here’s a few tips on what you shouldn’t do if you ever encounter such a situation.

Random Passengers Not Directly Involved in the Incident SHOULD NOT…

Gather Around the Patient to Gawk

Unless you’re a medical professional volunteering your services, seriously, stay in your seat. Moments after the initial announcement came from the back, we heard: “If you are not a doctor, please sit down!” and “We need to be able to get to the patient!”

It’s natural to be curious, but please, think about the patient instead of yourself. Administering medical assistance within the confines of an airplane cabin is challenging, with or without a crowd. We need space and so does the patient. Even if the patient is in a seat, we need the aisles totally clear in order to relay messages and deliver medical equipment. By standing up, you are making the situation worse.

Take Photos or Video

This goes in hand with the last one. I promise, if you’re taking photos or videos, you’re in the way. Plus, it’s just crass. Would you want strangers taking a video of you or your mother having a seizure?

Friends and Family Traveling with the Patient SHOULD NOT…

Scream, Freak Out and Make It All About You

I know you’re concerned and probably very upset, but losing control makes the situation worse for your loved one by adding confusion and chaos to the scene. It makes people think you are the ill one, which could result in a delay of medical attention to the real patient. It also causes the patient to worry about you and could make them pretend to feel better than they actually do, just in order to assuage you.

If you’re unable to calmly support your loved one, find a flight attendant away from the drama. They’ll be happy to take you off to the side, talk you down and keep you informed.

Medical Personnel SHOULD NOT…

Be Unaware That Speaking Up Means Volunteering

When paging for medical assistance, flight attendants are supposed to use the words “willing to volunteer,” but when we’re focused on finding help as quickly as possible, we might forget that part. The airline will probably thank you, at least in miles, but I can’t promise anything and have nothing to do with how that system works.

If you’re not okay with helping a fellow passenger for free, you don’t have to answer the announcement. We’ll never know.

Volunteer Without Having Any Real Intent to Help

I don’t know what the deal was, but one doctor I encountered during the incident just seemed angry, and he was only interested in complaining about the flight’s food, the plane, and this or that. Take it up with the airline, buddy — I can’t fix those things, and I’m kind of busy with a medical emergency. Can we focus please? If you think the passenger isn’t in danger, please communicate that to us and direct your complaints to the airline.

For the record: Everyone on our flight ended up being okay. Thankfully, that’s how it usually goes, but it’s not always the case. One of the flight attendants within that crew had a passenger literally die in her arms once. I tell you this to drive home the point that “the worst” does happen sometimes, so above all, please be respectful and take medical emergencies as seriously as we do.

On a final, lighter note, may I ask you one personal favor? If you must fall ill on one of my flights, could you be a gem and do it one at time? That would be super helpful, thanks.

[Photo: iStock]

View Comments (3)


  1. flyerred

    November 11, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Very nice writeup. Appreciate the guidance from this perspective. More articles like this to help us be more informed.

  2. creampuff

    November 13, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    That was a good write up, thanks.

  3. ANC

    November 13, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    had one today on AS139. Everybody conducted themselves courteously. Row 1 in F. I was in row 2. Passenger short of breathe. Pax given oxygen and the announcement for medical personnel went out. 4 showed up to assist. 2 quickly went back to their seats and a doctor and a nurse stayed to assist. After maybe 5 minutes the doctor went back to his seat and the nurse stayed and proceeded to stay throughout the flight until approach. The other passenger in the F seat voluneered to give up his seat and trade it with the nurse that came from Y so they could sit with the person in distress for the flight. At the times where the aisles were blocked, F pax went to the Y lavatory without even being asked or prompted to do so. There were no pictures, videos, or on lookers

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