During In-Flight Emergencies, Sometimes Airlines’ Medical Kits Fall Short

by | Jan 6, 2023 | Health

In March, a Frontier Airlines flight was headed from Phoenix to Las Vegas when a female passenger stopped breathing. The flight attendant yelled in the cabin for help.

A passenger who was trained as a wilderness first responder, Seth Coley, jumped into action and found the woman was unresponsive and had a weak pulse. Coley dug through the plane’s medical kit but couldn’t find an oropharyngeal airway, a tool that was supposed to be there and that he needed to help the woman breathe. Instead, he cleared the airway by manipulating her neck.

Afterward, Coley sent a message to Denver-based Frontier Airlines via an online customer service form: “I saved somebody’s life on one of your flights,” he wrote. “I would like to speak about the medical kit you guys have on your flights. You are missing some very valuable and simple things. She almost died.”

Americans are flying at levels reaching pre-pandemic numbers. While covid-19 ushered in new health and cleaning protocols designed to make airplane travel safer, incidents like Coley’s raise questions about airlines’ readiness for medical emergencies because of incomplete or insufficient medical kits and the training of flight crews, who often rely on other passengers in emergencies.

Frontier did not respond to KHN’s requests for comment about that incident or its emergency kits. But Coley’s experience illustrates the risks travelers take every time they board a flight. For every 20,000 passengers who take a flight on a U.S.-based airline, there is one medical even …

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