I recently participated in a survey from Frequent Business Traveler about air travel discomfort and pet peeves. It stimulated a robust conversation on the FlyerTalk message boards regarding all manner of inconveniences guaranteed to vex the frequent flyer. Topping the list, unsurprisingly, are lack of legroom, disruptive passengers, intrusive seat reclining, lack of lumbar support and cranky crew.
My Own Complaints & Discomforts
As an entitled premium flyer, I contributed my own complaints regarding lack of in-seat electricity and filthy lavatories. I’d really like to return to the days before the need to score scarce overhead space turned us passengers into a roller derby squad of selfish assholes (and yes, I am one of those assholes).
We wax philosophically about the Pan Am of yesteryear when Donald Draper donned his fedora and flew the friendly skies with legroom, free drinks and a smiling, jauntily dressed flight crew. What about those Capital One credit card TV ads with Jennifer Garner? They show faux aircraft with miles of legroom and actual fresh air!
The True Job #1 for your Airline
All of this complaining and wishful thinking on my part came to an abrupt halt on a recent international trip when I was starkly reminded of the actual responsibility of the airline– which is to safely deliver us to our destination. I’ll say it again– it is the responsibility of the airline to safely deliver us to our destination.
This reminder occurred while flying on Aerolineas from El Calafate, Argentina to Buenos Aires. I was skeptical about the airline as travel message boards are rife with tales about the airline’s inefficiency and my own reservation with the carrier had experienced a comical number of errors and changes. But, in El Calafate, we boarded efficiently enough and took off on-time for the four hour flight to Buenos Aires. Shortly after take-off, one of the passengers had a medical emergency.
They swiftly had him laid out in the aisle and were administering medical attention with the help of trained passengers who volunteered their services. I wondered if we would need to divert and land the plane so that he could get off. But they got him stabilized and cleared out a row for him to lay down. When we landed, we were held on board until the ground medical crew could come on, assess him and develop a plan to evacuate him from the plane. I once had a medical incident on the plane of a major US carrier and did not receive the care and attention given by the flight crew of this supposed second-tier airline.
The Likelihood of Medical Incidents on Airplanes
USA Today, quoting a New England Journal of Medicine report, noted that there is some sort of medical incident on 1 in 604 commercial flights, most involving fainting (my issue), respiratory symptoms or gastrointestinal symptoms. Fortunately, few of these incidences are severe enough to require that the plane be diverted and the most common outcome seems to be that the passenger is assisted by crew and volunteer medical passengers. Most don’t need hospitalization but, if necessary, they are transported to the hospital after landing.
The FAA requires that all US planes carrying 30 passengers and at least one flight attendant have an emergency medical kit and defibrillators and they are working to give more emergency medical training to the flight crews. If you are on a larger plane, chances are that a passenger or two on the flight will have advanced medical training. While I hope never to have another medical emergency on a plane, this does give me some peace of mind.
The next time I fly, as I sit down in my uncomfortable seat with no legroom, I will try to remember that passenger from El Calafate and be thankful for a safe and uneventful flight.
If you are interested in learning more about Argentina, check out Buenos Aires Street Art in 4 Colorful Neighborhoods and this guide to wildlife viewing in Puerto Madryn.
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