When a First Class Passenger Responds to a Medical Emergency

When a First Class Passenger Responds to a Medical Emergency

This flight is part of my trip to Melbourne through Hong Kong and Macao:

So in my previous post, I posted about how my wife was flying first class on Cathay Pacific from JFK to Hong Kong. Sometime in the early morning (local time, Chinese time zone), there was a medical issue on board. The flight attendants were talking about in the galley behind first class and my wife went and asked about it as she is currently a primary care resident in Boston. Earlier on the flight, a first class passenger was complaining about a chest cold. My wife was really hoping that it wasn’t that lady requesting medical assistance.

The flight attendants quickly told her that it wasn’t the passenger in first class, but that a woman in coach was having chest pains. She quickly went to the passenger and asked her a bunch of questions. Surprisingly there was no other passenger on board who was a doctor, or wanted to admit was a doctor. There was a medical student on board and came over to assist. My wife asked him to take his vitals while she evaluated what was available in the medical kit onboard.

My wife wanted to check the woman’s blood sugar level. She found the test strips, but not the machine to measure the sugar level. Not useful at all. She quickly noted that there wasn’t much in this medical kit. The flight attendants and the pilot later commented that they had just changed companies that stocks the medical kit and there was a lot to be desired with this new company.

My wife went back to the passenger, recommended she take some pills and drink some juices to make sure her blood sugar wasn’t low. From her other vitals, the woman seemed to be ok but my wife wasn’t exactly sure what happened to her earlier. During this whole time, my wife had to walk back and forth on the plane and confer with the flight attendants and also speak to Cathay Pacific’s medical adviser on the phone. They both agreed on the recommendations for the passenger and the diagnosis. Luckily the woman seemed to be doing better after the medicine.

Now this is the part where most frequent fliers would only dream of: She got asked to speak to the captain in the cockpit. My wife made her 15th trip across the length of the plane to speak with the captain. She updated the captain on the status of the passenger and said it wasn’t urgent enough to divert the flight. At this time, the flight was over the Mongolian dessert so my wife got to see the mountains. So was so tempted to take a selfie in the cabin but she decided against it. It was also early in the morning so you can see out of the cockpit. The captained offered to upgrade my wife to a better seat and asked where she was sitting. She responded “2D.” The captain was a bit surprised with the answer and said that he couldn’t upgrade her as she was already in first class.

So this is what happens when a doctor gets asked to help with a medical issue onboard. Luckily it wasn’t something more serious.

Are there any other doctors who had to respond to a medical emergency on a longhaul flight? Did you get offered an upgrade?

12 Comments on "When a First Class Passenger Responds to a Medical Emergency"

  1. Funny, our story was somewhat odd. Back from Italy (Alitalia) a passenger wasn’t feeling well. My wife was also a resident at the time. They asked for a doctor but when she volunteered, the FA said she couldn’t allow my wife to help the passenger because she wasn’t carrying her medical ID. Luckily there was another doctor on board who did have his credentials and he saw the passenger. Turned out he was just lightheaded and needed to eat something. Interesting thing is where do you draw the line if there is a more serious issue and only one doctor to help? Shouldn’t the passenger decide if they want to take their chances with a doctor who is not carrying an ID? My wife said they probably did that because it wasn’t a “real” emergency. If someone would have had a heart attack they probably wouldn’t have wasted time over such a technicality while the person just sat there dying! Needless to say, no upgrade for us. Although probably the sick passenger could have used it more. That captain from your wife’s flight should have upgraded her since he apparently had the extra room.

    • Simon - Running For Status | December 24, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Reply

      Well technically she was in 2D and 1D and 1A were taken, so couldn’t really upgrade her unless she was allowed to sit in the cockpit (not sure if there’s that third seat in the cockpit anymore)

  2. I wonder if CX contracts with any services for in-flight medical consultant services. The medical center where I go to school has a contract with about 25 airlines throughout the world and a 24-hour airline on-call center.

    Hilarious about the inability to upgrade 😛

    • Simon - Running For Status | December 24, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Reply

      You should find out, maybe they can get CX some better stuff. Glucose strips but not the meter? It wasn’t critical this time but just weird they didn’t have it.

  3. Been there several times. Last time, I was traveling first class from San Francisco to Manila. A passenger had unstable angina/MI. Had to start IV, administer nitro, etc… Had to get the pilot to divert the plane back to San Francisco after two hours in flight. 30 min before landing, another lady falls, bonks her head and I get pulled from the first lady with the MI.

    It get worse, on the return flight from the Philippines to San Francisco (at the end of my trip), one hour before landing, a girl that has anaphylactic reactions to nuts, gets fed a walnut muffin. Luckily, I had an epi-pen in addition to the multiple ones that the family had, and she spat the rest of the muffin out she tasted it. The reaction was not horrible, but it was scary. At least there was a ENT surgeon on board too who was ready to trach her if she swelled up much more and closed her airway.

    So, did I get anything for doing all that? Nope, nada, zilch. Philippine airlines said nothing. No thanks. Instead, all the passengers were pissed off at me because I had the fight diverted. Even the lady’s husband was saying, “there is no need to divert back. She has lived a full life.” LOL. To add salt to the wound, then Philippine airlines accidentally downgraded my elite status the next month.

    So now I fly Cathay. 😉

    (I’m an anesthesiologist)

    • Passengers upset about being inconvenienced because someone had a medical emergency is not only a disgrace, but also a glimpse into what today’s society is becoming. Lots of people just care about themselves and no one else, no matter the cost.

    • Simon - Running For Status | December 24, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Reply

      I would’ve said the same thing if my wife had the same reaction =).

      Wow sounds like you had your fair share of being an on board doctor! Maybe after a few more flights you should write a book about it.

  4. I traveled Cathay 1st class last year with a friend. We are both physicians. There was a medical emergency with a fainting passenger in coach. The condition of equipment was appalling. They are not prepared for any time of medical emergency. Also, the purser was really mad a me because I made them turn on the oxygen tank to provide some additional support for the passenger. We were happy to help and the passenger thanked us alot. Cathay, not so much.

    • Simon - Running For Status | December 24, 2014 at 6:34 pm | Reply

      Yes, my wife is still waiting for that thank you email from CX (probably won’t happen). Did you have to speak with their medical consult on the ground?

  5. Northern Traveler | December 24, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Reply

    Several years ago my partner spent 4 hours with a passenger that was fainting on the plane over the water to Hawaii on United. He was offered a bottle of wine which was refused. Never heard a word from United.

  6. Happened to me, too. I was traveling from helsinki to Nagoya (japan). A (claustrophobic) passenger had a severe panic attack. I had to administer diazepam i.m. Luckily the patient calmed down quickly after that :)…
    Diversion aof the plane was NOT necessary which was very fortunate as we were just about to enter north Korean airspace (with a plane full of Japanese citizens…).
    Cooperation with the crew (Finnair) was excellent, patient was transfered to the (empty) business compartment, medical kit including oxygen ECG etc was complete and FA trained (patient did not need it anyway) was able to contact a medical emergency center (in Houston Texas) via SAT-Phone (which confirmed the procedure, at the airport an ambulance was waiting to pick up the patient (which actually was a bit over the top)
    Kudos to Finnair for that management and on top, I was awarded a free return ticket with finnair in Europe (economy) and got a thank you letter from the medical advisor of finnair.

    Guess as for medical emergency Finnair is quite well prepared

    would fly again
    (as for Lufthansa they offer (german?) physicians some goodies if the “identify” themselves when becoming a m § m member)

  7. I had an inflight medical emergency LHR-LAX. We did not have to divert, but I was sitting in the business class cabin and spent the last several hours of the flight traveling back and forth from the forward cabin to the rear. I wrote the experience up on my own blog on the upgrd network.

    The FAs were very grateful and gave me a bottle from first class to take home and AA actually gave me 25K bonus miles!

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