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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?”

there's probably a doctor on your flight

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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