Southwest Airlines makes a huge onboard safety change

Airlines can’t plan for every possible medical emergency. They have to decide what equipment and medicine to put on their planes.

In some cases, the Federal Aviation Administration mandates what equipment an airline must have on its planes. The rules, at least the ones that apply to commercial airlines, apply to planes with at least one flight attendant that carry 30 or more passengers. 

The federal agency, for example, mandates that airlines have an automated external defibrillator (AED). That’s the device that can shock people’s hearts back into operation after a heart attack or other cardiac event.

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Under FAA rules, airlines must also have an emergency medical kit (EMK) onboard. There’s a long list of items that must be in those kits ranging from a stethoscope to epinephrine, the life-saving medicine that can save someone who goes into anaphylaxis due to an allergy.

Given that many airlines still serve peanuts, having an “Epi-Pen,” onboard might be the difference between life or death for someone who gets exposed to an allergen that causes their airway to close. The FAA also mandates that airlines carry antihistamines (which can help with allergies) and aspirin along with CPR devices, masks, IV equipment, and saline.

The FAA, however, does not require airlines to carry Narcan, another potentially life-saving nasal spray that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Southwest is changing its onboard medical kits.

Image source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines quietly adds Narcan

Narcan saves lives. Many drug addicts and relatives of addicts carry Narcan because administering it quickly in the event of an overdose increases the chance of survival. 

An over-the-counter medication, Narcan has a very simple message on its website.

“Opiood emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere. Having Narcan Nasal Spray in your first-aid kit or carrying it with you on the go can save lives,” the company shared.

Every major U.S. airline, except Southwest Airlines (LUV) – Get Free Report, carries Narcan in its EMK.

That was something John Gaal, a man who lost his son to an overdose, now carries with him. That Narcan came in handy on a Southwest flight last year where Gaal and his wife saved a passenger by administering the nasal spray.

He then made it a personal mission to get Southwest to add Narcan to its planes. That has happened, although the airline does not credit the change to Gaal’s persistence.

Southwest Airlines quietly adds Narcan

“With customer safety and comfort at front of mind, Southwest is enhancing its onboard emergency medical kits above and beyond current FAA requirements. The new kits, which are being installed throughout our fleet over the course of 2024, feature an auto-injector dosage of epinephrine, as well as doses of naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray and ondansetron (Zofran) tablets,” the airline shared after TheStreet requested comment.

The new kits will have enhanced equipment including the Narcan and auto-injector dosage of epinephrine. Adding them to the fleet, however, is not a simple process. It has already begun but the airline has to spread out adding the new kits in order to balance its inventory of spare kits with the maintenance schedule for Southwest’s fleet.

Southwest’s enhanced EMK’s will also have a new stethoscope designed for use in louder environments as well as an electronic blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter, glucometer, and better first-aid equipment.

In addition to enhancing its medical equipment, Southwest has also committed to improving its overall operational readiness after its 2022 holiday meltdown.

“We reprioritized our timeline for upgrading tools and technology that help us recover our operation more quickly during extreme weather and in all seasons,” the airlines shared in a press release.

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