In-flight emergencies raise concerns about airline medical equipment requirements

In-flight emergencies raise concerns about airline medical equipment requirements

  • Business
  • December 10, 2022
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Matt Luptak was flying with his 11-year-old daughter Sophia when her eyes became swollen and her airway began to close.

“I knew I needed an EpiPen,” said Luptak. “The flight attendant tells me, ‘We don’t have them.'”

Commercial airlines are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to carry emergency medical kits containing epinephrine to treat allergic reactions. However, you don’t have to have it in pre-measured doses that are easy to administer with a device like an EpiPen.

“I was just thinking that I’m going to lose my daughter,” Luptak said.

Luckily, a doctor on board was able to measure the correct pediatric dose of epinephrine from the kit, and Sophia survived.

“I would never want another parent to go through this feeling that this could be anything,” Luptak said.

According to a 2019 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every 600 flights has an in-flight medical emergency. Less than 10% of these inflight emergencies require flight diversions.

In 2019, the Aerospace Medical Association, which advises the FAA, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that the kits include additional items, including electronic blood pressure cuffs, epinephrine auto-injectors, pediatric doses of epinephrine, antihistamines, and pain relievers.

“These are very small changes that could make all the difference in the child’s life and death,” said Dr. Brian Moore, who advised on the recommendations.

The FAA told CBS News that it is “currently reviewing emergency equipment requirements” and that “changes would require a rulemaking process.”

CBS News reached out to seven major US airlines and all said their medical kits meet FAA requirements. The seven airlines all said passenger safety is their top priority and flight attendants are also trained to deal with medical emergencies.

What each airline said about their onboard emergency kit:

Alaska Airlines said its kits contain “dozens and dozens of medications, types of medical devices, bandages and dressings” as well as “standard items” that might be found in at-home emergency kits. The kits also include auto-injectors for epinephrine, atropine, dextrose, epinephrine, and lidocaine.

American Airlines said its kits “contain supplies in excess of FAA requirements.”

Delta Air Lines said its kits “exceed the minimum requirements required by the FAA” and that its kits contain atropine, dextrose, epinephrine and lidocaine. It said its kits do not include auto-injectors for epinephrine, but do include a vial of epinephrine and a syringe. “This summer, we began adding higher-end diagnostic tools to all aircraft, including automatic blood pressure cuffs, medical stethoscopes and pulse oximeters, and a temporal thermometer,” the airline said.

JetBlue said its kits “exceed FAA requirements and include an epinephrine auto-injector.” “JetBlue is making every effort (with our business partner) to keep all medicines in stock, despite exemptions for certain medicines due to global shortages,” the airline said.

Southwest Airlines said each aircraft “carries a comprehensive medical kit on board. We comply with all Federal Aviation Administration guidelines regarding required medications.”

Spirit Airlines said its kits “meet federal requirements and contain epinephrine.”

United Airlines said its kits have “provisions that go beyond federal requirements.”

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Omar Villafranca

Omar Villafranca

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