The Face Plant
True Story: I was boarding a plane when the gentleman next to me fell on his face. In fact, he collapsed. I have fallen in public before; so, I am familiar with the accepted protocol. You are supposed to jump back up as quickly as possible to limit your time as human road kill. When this gentleman did not move after his spectacular face plant, I began to worry. He either didn’t understand he should be embarrassed or something was very wrong. After I rolled him over and confirmed he was breathing, he regained consciousness. He was disoriented and confused. So was I.
You might think that after such an event, the gentleman in question would give the flight a pass and try again when he wasn’t so unconscious. You would be wrong. This gentleman was not going to miss his flight no matter what. He scores points for tenacity, but I am not the medevac team and this is not his life flight chopper. I tattled on him like the apple-polishing pupil I was in 3rd grade. The emergency medical team boarded the plane, and he was inspected thoroughly then asked to sign a waiver. It was at this moment I began to wonder what the protocol was for inflight medical emergencies – I mean aside from asking if there is a doctor on board as the movie Airplane! taught us in 1980.
According to Outcomes of Medical Emergencies on Commercial Airline Flights, a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine1, of the 34 months reviewed, 37% of inflight medical emergencies are fainting (now you tell me), 12% are respiratory issues, 9.5% are nausea or vomiting. On average, there is a medical emergency in one out of every 604 flights. In 48% of those emergencies, physician passengers provided the medical assistance.
For those of us finding ourselves on a flight with a fainter, you should know that the Aviation Medical Assistant Act of 19982 provides a “Good Samaritan” provision to shield passengers from liability if they provide medical assistance. That provision states:
An individual shall not be liable for damages in any action brought in a Federal or State court arising out of the acts or omissions of the individual in providing or attempting to provide assistance in the case of an in-flight medical emergency unless the individual, while rendering such assistance, is guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct.
The Act defines a “medically qualified individual” separately; so, “individual” means you…and me. I’m brushing up on my CPR. Fainters, I’ve got your back. Vomiters, you are on your own.
2Pub. L. 105-170, April 24, 1998, 112 Stat. 47.