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New travel annoyance: medical diversions?

New travel annoyance: medical diversions?

Old Apr 30, 2018, 3:46 pm
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New travel annoyance: medical diversions?

In the past 30 years, I've taken thousands of flights. I've never had a plane divert for a medical problem. This isn't surprising: according to the published data, a medical diversion happens about once every 7,000 flights.

But my luck has now apparently run out. Two of my last five domestic flights diverted for sick passengers. The odds of that happening seem extremely low. I wonder if it's just a run of very bad luck or if, perhaps, factors are leading to an increase in medical diversions.

If you follow the airline news, you've probably seen a few recent stories about families suing airlines after their loved one died on board. Obviously, this is a horrible thing to happen, and you can understand why the families are upset. In none of the cases, though, is it obvious that the airlines did anything "bad" to the now deceased passenger. Inevitably, the argument is that they could/should have done more. It's basically "Monday morning quarterbacking": if the passenger dies, it must be the airline's fault. Which raises the question of what duty does an airline owe to a passenger who gets very ill on one of their flights. Do they have to provide "fantastic" care, or do they just have to try to help? With the rise of social media, it seems like "the public" expects airlines to perform at least as well a trauma care center. Is that reasonable?

It may seem callous but -- speaking from recent experience -- the impact on the other passengers of a medical diversion is substantial. A typical delay seems to take around 3 hours. That includes the time flying to the diversion airport, the time spent on the ground with medical personnel, the time to replace the used, on-board medical equipment (you apparently can't fly with out it), refueling, getting a new flight plan, etc. If you're on a connecting flight, you're probably looking at a lost 5 hours, at best.

I think all of us would be fine with this if the medical emergency was truly unexpected. But, from my experience, that's not how most of these things go down. On my first diversion, the patient had a condition whereby altitude impacted his blood pressure. On his flight down to Florida, he apparently passed out. He went to a doctor who, for some reason, gave him the OK to fly. So he got on my flight, passed out again, and the pilot diverted. As we got to lower altitude, he regained consciousness, and actually walked off the plane at the diversion airport. Seemed entirely avoidable.

My last diversion was different. At the gate area, I saw this elderly passenger in a wheelchair who caught my eye because he looked unwell. He was boarded without incident. Ten minutes after we took off, a flight attendant was on the PA asking if there was a doctor on board. Sure enough, it was the same elderly passenger I had noticed in the boarding lounge.

I'm not sure if there's a solution to any of this, but I'm pretty sure that with the whole world watching on social media for their "indiscretions," the airlines seem more likely to divert than they used to be. And, I suspect, with cancellation penalties high and an aging population, more unwell passengers are likely to fly. So don't be surprised if more frequent medical diversions become the "new normal."
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 3:51 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx
In the past 30 years, I've taken thousands of flights. I've never had a plane divert for a medical problem. This isn't surprising: according to the published data, a medical diversion happens about once every 7,000 flights.

But my luck has now apparently run out. Two of my last five domestic flights diverted for sick passengers. The odds of that happening seem extremely low. I wonder if it's just a run of very bad luck or if, perhaps, factors are leading to an increase in medical diversions.
I think you've got a string of bad luck. Have you ever had "good luck" because your flight has been designated for arrival priority due to a medical situation onboard? (Perhaps yes, and you just didn't know.)

I've had someone die onboard over the north Atlantic. I've suffered a 2 hour gate delay because of a passenger who was eventually removed prior to departure. I was forever grateful that we weren't in the air with a diversion in Central or northern South America. I've heard many a "is there a doctor onboard" calls over the years.
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 3:57 pm
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Originally Posted by Eastbay1K
I've heard many a "is there a doctor onboard" calls over the years.
Right, me too. And I do worry about them when you're on a trans-oceanic flight and you left an hour or two ago. But I've never had an actual diversion before this year. And the stats show that relatively few of those "doctor on board" calls morph into actual diversions.

My wife theorizes that long int'l flights are actually less likely to have serious medical issues onboard because ill passengers are less likely to take long flights. If you know you're in poor health (or your family knows this), they probably know you shouldn't be taking an 8 hour trip. It's the short "friends and family" trips where individuals with poor health are more likely to "risk it." Like I'm sure that every elderly wheelchair pax on a flight to or from Florida easily doubles your chances of a diversion.
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 8:21 pm
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Sounds like the real problem is that you're flying to Florida too often.
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 8:29 pm
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A couple years ago I was on a packed TATL flight that diverted to a different country where the patient's passport needed a visa, but there was no visa. It was very interesting to watch the procedures and overhear the discussions from my seat in the first row of the aircraft. BTW, the patient was a twenty-something connecting from Africa and malaria was suspected.
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 8:32 pm
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Much ado about nothing. OP may have had 2 recent diversions, but he has not cited any facts to suggest that more flights are being diverted than usual.

But, in the specific case of this OP, he himself notes that he thought that the patient looked unwell. However, he apparently did not bring this to the attention of a GA or FA before it became a problem.
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 8:35 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx
So don't be surprised if more frequent medical diversions become the "new normal."
Twice is hardly a trend ...
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 9:06 pm
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That you think 3-5 hours of your time, two whole times, is way too much to waste for 2 people with life-threatening conditions that a medical expert has determined requires immediate attention?

Maybe you can share with the airlines your criteria for someone who "looked unwell" and we'll just ban them from flying - I'm sure that's a sufficient criteria to deny boarding.

Originally Posted by iahphx
It may seem callous
Why would anyone ever think that.....
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Old Apr 30, 2018, 9:53 pm
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Originally Posted by Often1
But, in the specific case of this OP, he himself notes that he thought that the patient looked unwell. However, he apparently did not bring this to the attention of a GA or FA before it became a problem.
Originally Posted by CPRich
Maybe you can share with the airlines your criteria for someone who "looked unwell" and we'll just ban them from flying - I'm sure that's a sufficient criteria to deny boarding.
In the real world, unless you observed someone in the boarding area who seemed to have a highly contagious disease -- and I'm not even sure what that would look like -- you would be highly unlikely to discuss the matter with a gate agent. It is obviously not the role of other passengers to police who is healthy enough to fly. First and foremost, it is the job of the ill passenger and, often, his or her family (personal responsibility if you will). In the past 2 months, I have seen 2 families completely fail in this assessment, resulting in a (presumably) life-threatening incident for their loved one and a major inconvenience for the 175 other people on board their flight. If you're not 100% sure that grandpa can safely and comfortably make the trip, perhaps you should let grandpa stay at home and visit him there.

If the unwell passenger still wants to fly, it is obviously the job of the gate agent however who, in this day and age, is likely to approach the matter very gingerly. This is, of course, an approach that is almost certain to lead to more medical diversions.

Last edited by iahphx; Apr 30, 2018 at 10:06 pm
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Old May 1, 2018, 6:53 am
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Originally Posted by iahphx
In the real world, unless you observed someone in the boarding area who seemed to have a highly contagious disease -- and I'm not even sure what that would look like -- you would be highly unlikely to discuss the matter with a gate agent. It is obviously not the role of other passengers to police who is healthy enough to fly. First and foremost, it is the job of the ill passenger and, often, his or her family (personal responsibility if you will). In the past 2 months, I have seen 2 families completely fail in this assessment, resulting in a (presumably) life-threatening incident for their loved one and a major inconvenience for the 175 other people on board their flight. If you're not 100% sure that grandpa can safely and comfortably make the trip, perhaps you should let grandpa stay at home and visit him there.

If the unwell passenger still wants to fly, it is obviously the job of the gate agent however who, in this day and age, is likely to approach the matter very gingerly. This is, of course, an approach that is almost certain to lead to more medical diversions.
My bolding

This hits the nail on the head. There is increasingly little personal responsibility taken nowadays - partly because everyone is increasingly busy and under pressure, and partly because many people seem to be unbelievably selfish. With less personal responsibility, more problems will arise, medical diversions being just one of them.
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Old May 1, 2018, 8:35 am
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Originally Posted by lhrsfo
My bolding

This hits the nail on the head. There is increasingly little personal responsibility taken nowadays - partly because everyone is increasingly busy and under pressure, and partly because many people seem to be unbelievably selfish. With less personal responsibility, more problems will arise, medical diversions being just one of them.
I think YOU hit the nail on the head. Both my diversions were very much like the inconvenience of having a "comfort animal" sit next to you on a plane. Like it's understandable that a pax would want to bring their dog on board, for free. But it's not so good for the passenger sitting next to you.

For my first diversion, it would have been the obvious choice to drive grandpa home from Florida if he had a medical condition where altitude caused him to black out -- and had just passed out on his flight to Florida. But the family didn't do that; it would probably have been "inconvenient" for them. Instead it was inconvenient to the rest of us on the plane (and the family wound up getting stuck in North Carolina for their efforts).

For my second diversion, if I was wondering about the health of a pax in the boarding lounge, did his family have no concern whatsoever over whether it was a good idea for grandpa to fly? I'm pretty sure they just decided "to take a chance." I guess that was their right but, again, they both endangered grandpa's life and greatly inconvenienced another 175 pax.

Last edited by iahphx; May 1, 2018 at 8:42 am
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Old May 1, 2018, 1:06 pm
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If you had a sudden aneurysm on board, would you want the plane to divert after a doctor on board (the expert) made that call? Or would the inconvenience to other passengers justify your death? I agree that people shouldn't fly if they are in bad health or have conditions that makes it unsafe for them in general. Being young, in great health, and more than fit to fly, doesn't prevent having a real emergency, in which case most people would expect to receive the treatment a medical expert suggests at the time of the emergency.
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Old May 1, 2018, 2:27 pm
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I take it that you'd happily die onboard of a fixable condition to avoid inconveniencing your fellow passengers?
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Old May 1, 2018, 4:09 pm
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Originally Posted by altabello
If you had a sudden aneurysm on board, would you want the plane to divert after a doctor on board (the expert) made that call? Or would the inconvenience to other passengers justify your death? I agree that people shouldn't fly if they are in bad health or have conditions that makes it unsafe for them in general. Being young, in great health, and more than fit to fly, doesn't prevent having a real emergency, in which case most people would expect to receive the treatment a medical expert suggests at the time of the emergency.
Well, as you probably know, AA is now about to litigate that exact issue. You, of course, are taking the straw man approach to the issue, suggesting it's a choice between a passenger's death and inconveniencing other passengers. The real world doesn't work that way. In the latest AA story, we real only know one side of the story (airlines almost never share their side of the story with the media), but even the "one sided story" shows that the airline wasn't being evil by not immediately diverting. For instance, the doctor on board initially thought the passenger was just having a panic attack. There is rarely perfect knowledge of what's really going on with a person's health on board an aircraft.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/...=.7245e10653a2

I've now witnessed two diversions, on two major airlines (AA and UA). I am CERTAIN that airlines err on the side of caution in these incidents and if the condition truly appears life-threatening -- which isn't always easy to tell -- the plane diverts. In the first instance, I was right next to the ill passenger who seemed to be getting increasingly disoriented. As soon as he became unresponsive to the doctor -- bamm -- we were headed to the nearest airport. In the second instance, we were over the Atlantic and the pilot chose to divert to the nearest city (30 minutes flying time) -- instead of our destination city (50 minutes) to try to help the passenger. Obviously, this was a very small time savings at considerable cost to the airline and all the other passengers, but that's what the airline did. That said, as a fellow passenger, I don't want people who shouldn't be flying to fly, and I don't want diversions simply because passengers are feeling ill. It really should be life-threatening, and it really shouldn't be a pre-existing condition that made it obviously risky to fly. I think these are obvious sentiments, that easily stand up to straw man analysis.
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Old May 1, 2018, 7:12 pm
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Originally Posted by iahphx
I don't want diversions simply because passengers are feeling ill. It really should be life-threatening, and it really shouldn't be a pre-existing condition that made it obviously risky to fly. I think these are obvious sentiments, that easily stand up to straw man analysis.
Airlines are going to err on the side of caution as they will be held liable if a treatable condition results in someone's death because they didn't divert. Who decides what is life threatening or not? How do you suggest they determine what is a pre-existing condition that makes it too risky for a passenger to fly? Which conditions do you specifically should be kept off commercial aircraft?
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