Plane Answers: Inflight medical emergencies, tips for pilots and fifty years of jet transcons

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

John asks about medical emergencies:

What do you do in case of medical emergency during mid flight? If for example, a person has too much anxiety and can’t calm themselves down, or has a medical issue like heart attack, etc. What do you do in those cases and have you ever experienced those personally?

This is, by far, our most common type of emergency. As soon as we’re alerted to any passenger medical situation, the pilots will determine if it’s serious enough to arrange for a phone patch through our dispatch to a network of doctors the airline pays to be available 24/7 that help us determine if a diversion is necessary. The final call always lies with the captain, though.

At the same time, the flight attendant may make an announcement looking for any medical doctors, nurses or EMT’s on board. If we’re unable to get a hold of a doctor on call or a medical professional on board, or if the problem is serious enough, we’ll immediately divert into the nearest suitable airport.

I’ve had a few near medical diversions, but after consulting with physicians, we continued on to our destination where paramedics will met us. The cases I’ve been involved with have usually been anxiety related.

And on a lighter note, Cassandra asks:

Hi Kent! Galley Gossip triggered a memory from back in 1987 the day before Thanksgiving. I was flying home from college in Tampa, Florida to NY for the holiday and while the reason is hazy, our stewardess had mentioned that it was the captain’s birthday that day.
Another woman next to me came up with the idea to make the captain a birthday card…out of the air-sick bag.

She whipped out crayons and color pens she had on her and we proceeded to make an actual card by opening up the side and the bottom. We colored and designed the entire bag on both sides and put our names and our seat locations and gave it to him as we left the plane wishing him a happy birthday. It took nearly the 2 1/2 hour trip time to finish it.

So, based on that, has any passengers ever given you any sort of impulsive gift or cards for birthday, holiday, good flight, etc?

Cassandra, I think that’d be a great trend to start – of course, I might be biased. But what a nice gesture you two made.

My only gift was years ago when I was flying a small commuter between Long Island, NY and Atlantic City, the co-pilot and I once received a $20 tip each.

We had been flying ten to fifteen high stakes gamblers at a time back and forth for months. They would often talk about their $10,000+ losses, while we were living just below the New York state poverty level at the time. The tip was much appreciated, and I found out later that the generous passenger was the founder of Butler Aviation, a full service FBO that provides fuel and maintenance to corporate aircraft around the country. So obviously, he was aware of our plight.

Of course, kids often give us their works of art, which usually involve an airplane with smiling faces in the windows. I take those home to share with my 6 year-old daughter, who’s become somewhat of an art critic, specializing in that genre.

And then there was the time last year when two flight attendants scrounged up a cake in London and managed to carry it with them to present to me on the flight home. They even dared to sing happy birthday, for which I shall now repay them by posting the video here.

Something tells me there might not be anyone brave enough to sing on my next birthday!

50 Years of Jet Transcontinental Flying

I always enjoy hearing about the earlier days of flying from some of our most senior flight attendants. But I may have found the most authoritative source on ’50s airline life yet.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first jet transcontinental flight. American Airlines introduced their Boeing 707 Flagship Jet that was now capable of the 2,400 mile flight non-stop, and Argie Hoskins was one of the flight attendants chosen to make that first trip which cut hours from the piston-engine flights connecting Los Angeles to New York.

She includes some videos about the flight, and gives a rundown of the passenger manifest and some of her training experiences and flying mishaps that happened prior to that history making flight.

Take a look at her enjoyable blog American Airlines Stewardess and step back to a time when flight attendants were asked to memorize the names of all the passengers aboard a 50 seat Convair staffed with just one ‘stewardess.’ She also has a bunch of pictures from the same era that modern day flight attendants would really appreciate.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.