Four rings on the airplane chime--that's a signal to the flight crew that a passenger is having a medical emergency. You may it more often in the future. According to a story in USA Today, medical emergencies on airplanes are growing in frequency. The paper commissioned research by a group called Medaire. Some of the findings:
- Medical emergency rates increased between 2000 and 2006, from 19 to 35 million events per 1 million passengers.
- An airline passenger is more likely to have a medical problem on
a plane than to be injured as a result of an air crash. Since January
1, 2003, 95 people have died as a result of injuries, while at least
219 have died in-flight because of a medical problem. This
number--219--is probably a significant underestimate, according to
- People aged 51 and older account for 83% of in-flight deaths. People with diabetes, seizure disorders, and heart and respiratory problems account for a large chunk of deaths on planes.
- Increasing age among the flying public and longer flights may account for some of the increase in deaths. And the relative comfort of modern aircraft cabins makes it easy to overlook that fact that it's not a normal environment for the human body and may be a dangerous stressor for someone with medical problems.
- Medical problems can cause safety problems for everyone else if a
plane is diverted and must land with lots of fuel still on board.
- Communications with medical crews on the ground are roundabout:
the flight attendant calls the cockpit on the the intercom and talks to
the pilots, who talk to the ground.
As one source in this article says: "If you are ill, an airplane is the worst place to be...You are trapped at 35,000 feet."