Aircraft Emergencies: What Happens When You’re Stuck in the Air

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In most parts of the country, emergency aid is just a phone call away. We know that EMTs and fire departments will be dispatched to a scene quickly and efficiently. But what happens when we are on an aircraft and an emergency outside of the norm occurs? In-flight emergencies can range from someone requiring a sudden appendectomy or emergency surgery, to luggage falling on someone’s head, to a hot beverage being spilled on a child’s arm, to a heart attack or seizure. If you are the victim of any type of in-flight emergency, being in a closed cabin doesn’t provide much relief when all you want is for the plane to land so you can be back in the comfort of your own home. When landing the plane is not immediately possible, how are these situations handled and what type of aid is accessible?

Although a myriad of incidents can occur, flight attendants report most often incidents of passengers fainting due to low blood sugar, intoxication or panic attacks. The attendants are trained to handle the scene when someone faints. If you find yourself a victim of an in-flight incident, or a witness to one, here are some behaviors to keep in mind:

  • Stay calm. Acting aggressively and irrationally will further exacerbate your mood and the actions of those around you—and could delay any treatment.
  • Pay attention to the instructions of the flight crew and do as you are told. They have several tasks to juggle when an in-flight emergency occurs and obtaining assistance while in the air is their first task at hand. Know that the primary concern is your safety.
  • Don’t block any exits or aisles.
  • If you are a medical professional, you may be called upon to assist. Offer your help if you are in a condition to do so.

In an incident such as a heart attack or panic attack, there may be signs and symptoms leading to the attack. The causes could be internal or hereditary, or there could have been an in-flight experience that prompted the attack. Even pilots admit to situations that cause them the most fear, and some of these could be factors that lead to a further emergency:

  • Fire on board, particularly when smoke and flames causes disorientation
  • Forced landing at night, particularly with smaller aircraft
  • Thunderstorms and icy conditions which can cause a sudden drop in air speed
  • Engine failure and forced landings over water or fields

It’s comforting to know that flight attendants are required to know CPR and basic emergency training. They are instructed to always ask the passengers whether there is a medical professional on board. Pilots also have an advanced series of emergency treatments on board, such as insulin shots or other items not found in a standard first aid kit. What about trauma incidents that require care outside the scope of the offerings on board? The pilot always has access to communication with an on-ground physician who can walk someone through the instructions for treating the person in distress.

If you were on an aircraft and experienced an in-flight emergency that required you to receive (or not receive) much needed and adequate medical care, you may find that your first best step is to contact a law firm renowned for handling cases involving aviation and accidents. Communicating with an agency like the Federal Aviation Administration requires details and time-sensitive events, and could mean working with other countries or states that may have certain jurisdictions over the airlines or travel area.

We know that the probability of an in-flight emergency is low, and most of the time we will board and depart the plane without incident. Should you find yourself a victim, or witness to an incident, however, the steps outlined above might assist you in your efforts to stay calm until advanced treatment arrives.