Reply To: Is there a doctor on board?

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We are all familiar with that call, but what do other travellers hope will happen? I have been the doctor answering the call a few times, and I am sometimes surprised by the reaction of the airline.

Case one. On takeoff from a West African city, a catering trolley goes loose, knocks a flight attendant to the floor, and breaks her leg (tibia and fibula, to those interested in the details).

There is not a single empty seat on the plane. She is cared for lying on the galley floor. The captain does not agree to medical requests to turn back, or to put down at the next available airport, and continues to the European destination. (This is a major European airline, but not a UK airline.) The injured young woman has a very painful flight.

What would other travellers wish? There is, of course, a considerable cost in fuel and time involved in turning back. If you had been on that flight, and had known exactly what had happened, would you want to make the extra stop, or push on to the destination?

Case two. About 1.5 hours out from Europe on the way to JFK, a passenger complains of chest pain. It could be a heart attack, but after a lot of thought and going over the patient’s history, I decide probably not. Then a good discussion on the flight deck with the captain … and we carry one. There are spare seats in F so the patient and I are moved there (with a nurse, also on the flight) and we run a mini-hospital ward and land safely – with the patient well – in JFK.

The nurse and I joke between us that, if we went round F and C with a hat and said “our decision got you to the USA on time” the hat would have been full of folding money. As it was, the reward was (a) a grateful patient (b) a grateful flight crew and (c) an unusable voucher from the airline worth about €60.

Now, doctors don’t attend medical emergencies in mid-flight with the hope of getting rich, but what is the right way for the airline to recognise what has been done? I think that, probably, a free flight, or the refund of your ticket for the flight where you stepped in to help, is right and enough. Do other travellers agree?

I’ve obscured the names of the airlines involved in the two cases above, but for the record, Air Canada and CSA win my prize for thanking the doctor suitably and not excessively.

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