Airlines have medical teams they consult with, and people on call on the ground in the event of a medical emergency. They can guide crew in the air, and advise on whether a situation warrants diverting the flight to the nearest airport.
The crew will still often ask if anyone on board has medical experience in the event that a passenger falls ill. The happenstance of a knowledgeable doctor on board can literally be a life saver.
But not everyone who volunteers in an emergency is equally qualified, as this story from an Allegiant flight attendant demonstrates. A woman responded to a medical situation on a flight on Thursday by asking crew “to allow her to perform acupuncture and administer essential oils” – and when they declined she went to the traveling companions of the passenger in distress directly to offer her services.
Btw when I said no she continued to go around and ask everyone traveling with this woman if she could get permission to do it.
— Raychel Armstrong (@twuraychel) August 12, 2022
Thankfully the crew of this flight had the presence of mind to say no. It’s not always so easy. Delta Air Lines said six years ago that their policy would be to no longer ask for medical credentials, after a flight attendant refused to believe an African American passenger was a doctor. Two years later that same scenario repeated itself again anyway, with a member of the faculty of Harvard Medical School.
The first female flight attendant was Ellen Church, hired at United in 1930. She was a registered nurse, and for half a dozen years this became a requirement — something that lasted at US airlines in some part until World War II. Aircraft weren’t the same smooth rides back then that they are (most of the time) today. Now we have to luck into a doctor on board – and hope it’s a real doctor.
Lufthansa reportedly gives out miles, and American Airlines gives travel vouchers to doctors who volunteer. For the miles I might be willing to respond to the next emergency, too, because while I might not be an ‘actual doctor’ it’s quite possible that I’d stayed at a Holiday Inn Express the night before, given improvements in the IHG One Rewards program.