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I don’t write flight recaps for every single flight I take. For every QSuite business class flight or onboard shower, there are plenty of boring flights on A319s or regional jets. I mean, aside from your Southwest seat-saving drama, there’s not too much exciting about most of my flights.
But recently I flew Frontier on a roundtrip flight and had an interesting experience on both my outbound and return flights. On my return flight, I already talked about how I was stuck next to someone else’s kid, but today I thought I’d share a bit about my outbound flight
Frontier Flight 647
Frontier flight 647 left CVG at 9:41 a.m. on November 15, on its way for a 2.5-hour trip to Denver. We actually departed about 30 minutes late because there was a part that they were waiting on. As I understood it from the pilot’s announcements, it wasn’t a part for our plane and there wasn’t anything wrong with our plane — instead, they were trying to get this part back to Frontier’s headquarters in Denver (I assume to fix another plane that was there).
I was seated in seat 2C — I picked free stretch seating since I have Frontier elite status. There was nobody sitting next to me in 2B so I got to enjoy a nice open middle scenario. A little more than halfway through the flight, I got up to use the forward restroom and then returned to my seat.
Medical Emergency Onboard the Plane
Immediately after I sat down, a teenage girl came up the aisle from the rear of the plane. At first, I thought she was in the same party as the guy in 1D (across the aisle from me and one row up). He was an older gentleman and it looked like she was reaching down to give him a hug. But it became quickly obvious that she had passed out. She kind of started falling down to the ground, and me and the guy across the aisle from me (2D) were holding her back so she wouldn’t just fall back and hit her head on the floor of the plane.
After a brief moment of unconsciousness, she woke up but was still pretty weak. We got the attention of the flight attendants who came to check her out. One was talking with her while the other got on the intercom and gave that famous announcement: “Is there a doctor on board?”
A Doctor Comes Forward
As it turns out, there was indeed a doctor on board. He came up and started talking with the young lady. As he started talking with her, I was trying to pay attention because I was curious but also not trying to embarrass her and her mom, who had come up from the back of the airplane. I had a few thoughts:
- I was reminded of the young, black, female doctor who, on a Delta flight in 2016, was told “Sorry sweetie, we’re looking for ACTUAL doctors” (she later got an apology and Delta changed their policy to no longer require verification of medical credentials).
- Above all, I was hoping that she was okay but I was also REAAAALLLLLY hoping we weren’t going to have to do a medical diversion. I had 13 hours of driving for counties ahead of me and I wanted to get started.
- Then I started thinking, what are the odds that a doctor is on board?
So, What Are the Odds That a Doctor Is on Board?
I’m a math guy so I started trying to calculate the odds, based on the total number of people in the world / U.S. and the number of doctors. I tried to do a bit of calculating on the flight but realized I had no idea how many doctors there were in the U.S. But with 150-200 people on a flight, and given an assumption that doctors probably fly more than the average person, I thought there were decent odds. I did make myself a note to do some research on it and write a post about it.
- There are 330 million people in the U.S. I estimate that half might be at least occasional flyers (I know it’s more complicated than that but just for a rough guess).
- There are about 1 million doctors in the US.
- But then I realized there are others with medical training … about 6 million registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners (source)
- And 1 million EMTs! (source)
- Then to make the numbers even, let’s say there are another 2 million people in various other specialties that have medical training.
So with 10 million medical professionals out of say 200 million possible flyers, that’s a 1/20 chance that any particular person onboard has medical training. That seemed really high to me, but even if my math is way off, on an airplane with 150 passengers onboard, it seems like your odds are good. And in fact according to Dan’s 1st law of the Internet, which I coined back in 2002, (“No matter how much you like something, someone else likes it more and already has a web page about it”), this study has already been done. In 2017, London Gatwick Airport did a study that showed that doctors are on 11 out of 12 flights. I couldn’t find a link to the original study but here’s a writeup in Travel and Leisure.
For another anecdotal experience, I asked the flight attendant how many times she had made the call and how many times there was somebody onboard that came forward. She said she had been working with Frontier for 5 years and every single time there had been a doctor or someone else with medical training. She said “usually they are fighting to come forward.” I figured that made sense — it’s probably the most excitement they’ve had on a flight in awhile, too. 🙂
Wrapping It Up
Like I said, I was trying to pay attention without causing a problem, but I think I got the basic idea of what happened. The nurse stayed up with her for a bit and they gave her some juice and fluids and then they returned to their seat. Several passengers in the front offered their seats, but the family just wanted to return to their original seats. It sounded like they had an early start to the day and the young lady hadn’t eaten anything and got lightheaded.
When we landed, they asked us to hold in our seats while this family got off first, and they were met by paramedics. If I know teenage girls at all, by that point she was probably more embarrassed than anything else. 🙂 It sounded like to me that everything went fine.
Have you ever been on a flight where they’ve called for a doctor on board? Did anyone answer the call? Let us know in the comments.
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I think there are two classes of medical personnel you miss, as well: nurses and paramedics.
In many cases, a specialized ER/ICU nurse or a paramedic (focused by nature on emergency medicine and first response) may be able to provide more focused assessment and initial care than, say, a dermatologist or orthopedic specialist.
It’s not really a doctor you want – it’s anyone trained in emergency medicine/first response.
I’ve been on a handful of flights where that page-out happened and each time – even with a doctor present – I’ve ended up taking the lead on assessment, treatment and diversion decisions.
Yeah you’re right. Though I did mention that when I started calculating the odds
I just ran across this and even though it is months old I thought I would reply. I am U.S. State Department Medical Practitioner PA who runs the embassy health units. I had 30 years of ER experience before I went into the State Department and was a Navy Corpsmen during the VN war and an LPN before going to the PA program at GW in DC. I fly all over the world and have answered numerous calls for a Doctor or a Medical Professional on board. I have had to explain over and over again who I am and why I am fully qualified to see this patient. Remember many medical professionals will not stand up and offer their services because of all the obstacles they run into. It truly is a good Samaritan response. I know many who will not subject themselves to this liability even though they say you are covered by the Good Samaritan Laws. Remember in other countries and on other airlines this may or may not apply. I agree with what many have said it depends upon your skill set and what the problem is on board at the time you respond. I have asked other passengers for help and I have had responses from ER nurses, EMT’s, Paramedics and other physician subspecialists that have been very fortunate for me. It is truly difficult to manage a complex case alone. I think this is still a difficult situation to manage for almost anyone when your in the air possibly hours away from a place where you can get to for a higher level of care. The call I believe should be for medical professional on board and then sort out what resources you have available. Let the medical folks decide who can handle the situation on hand. I had a transplant surgeon on one flight and he and I ran a complex medical situation together and we both thanked each other for being there. We each had certain skill sets that we brought to the table.
Children can’t be doctors so right off the bat you’re starting with the wrong 330 million number.
Wait didn’t you watch Doogie Howser?!?!? 🙂
But anyway when I talk about the 330 million people, I am talking about all of the (U.S.) people that might be on the plane, children included.
If someone has a medical emergency in flight and needs urgent medical care, it may well be a lot better if the passenger responding to the emergency is an experienced EMT or ER nurse rather than an MD who is a radiologist, pathologist, ophthalmologist, and so on.
On flights to and from RST the proportion of total passengers on flights who are MDs is probably much higher than would be the case on flights out of MSP, ORD, ATL, and most major hub airports across the country. But since the number of passengers on board a plane matters too, the chances of having a doctor on board a flight are higher when its a plane that is bigger than the Barbie jets. There are some days of the week/month/year when the proportion of passengers on a flight who are MDs is likely to be higher than usual; and then there are some days of the week/month/year when the proportion would be much lower.
LH used to give bonus miles to doctors willing to register as doctors on board LH flights for emergency response in-flight.
I received bonus mikes from AA for assisting in-flight.
Yes, LH gives a small amount of miles if doctors register. They get their credentials checked then they get a free paperback medical book. The doctor credentials are then noted on their LH frequent flyer account.
I have been aboard about 15 flights where there was a medical emergency. Every time, there was a doctor or EMT aboard so they didn’t have to resort to nurse’s aides.
Once, I was on a plane from a city where there was a medical conference that finished. There were at least 15 doctors on the flight assuming that it was doctors who carried a shopping bag with the conference name on it.
My father, who is a 78 year old still practicing emergency room doctor has stepped up 4-5 times, every time they asked. KLM gave him $500 voucher, Cathay gave him a bottle of cheap champagne (that he lugged around Asia for a month) and Air Canada refilled his glass of predeparture wine he spilled when jumping up from his J class seat to help.
My wife was coming back from Asia on a business trip and passed out (likely dehydration). Lucky for her, her seat mate in business class was a doctor and he spent the next 12 hours watching her to insure she was going all right.
Hi Dan. I have been on more than 200 flights in my life and have never had anyone need a doctor. I did have a person next to me pass out but the flight attendant did not make the announcment, only brought the man a glass of water. I would like to ask you about the new Aeroplan credit card from Chase. I signed up for the 10K bonus earlier this year. I was under the impression that when the card became available that Chase would process the application at that point but now I’m wondering if I need to apply again. Am I wrong. Can you clear that up for me? I appreciate your writings.
We had a similar incident just a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I take the middle seat and my wife takes the aisle (only one empty seat on the plane), but we decided to swap this time. Turns out that was fortunate, as our window seatmate ended up having a seizure, which (other than bleeding) is probably the most common emergency that Labor nurses have to deal with. They did call for medical personnel before we had a chance to let them know, but it all worked out (even though I had to move to the empty seat).
Due to this flight (and some bonus miles from American), she ended up with more miles on American this year than I did (and I had 2 cross-country flights!).
You really just need someone who has medical training and is comfortable providing assistance. I have already attended 4 cases over 20+ years, and most were uncomplicated except for one. That complicated one stayed with me for a while, but I was the only person to respond. My last case, there were 3 of us, a retired cardiologist, an OBGYN fellow and myself. I decided to take charge when the other two were hesitant and new at this. It was an uncomplicated food poisoning issue. I haven’t done ER/IM medicine for 20 years but the simple cases are easy.