Air travel freaks some people out even though it’s statistically way safer than driving in a car. In some cases, these fears are truly irrational, but for most people, it’s a question of control.
Your odds of dying in a car crash may be exponentially higher than the chance your plane might fall out of the sky, but airplane passengers have no control over possible outcomes. When you get behind the wheel of a car, you might crash because you decided to text and eat while driving, but at least you’ll know what’s happening as you meet your doom.
Most airline passengers likely spend very little time contemplating what might go wrong unless your plane hits some turbulence. When that happens, everyone wants the pilot to come on the public address system to say that the plan has just hit some rough air and nothing big has gone wrong.
What airline passengers — and apparently airlines — don’t fully think about is what happens when a non-flight-based emergency happens 35,000 feet in the air. Airlines do have some emergency medical equipment on board and flight attendants have some training to handle certain issues, but in other areas, airlines are lacking.
Southwest Airlines does not carry EpiPens.
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Southwest Airlines Nearly Has a Major Tragedy
Airplanes are not flying hospitals, and they can only carry certain equipment. The problem, in this case, is not that Southwest did not foresee the need to be able to handle a specific, very possible, medical emergency, it just planned to solve the problem in a way that would have increased the risk of death for the passenger when a simple solution exists.
That’s something Southwest passenger Lindsey Ulin learned when she went into anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can fully close off a person’s airway, for the first time ever while flying with the airline. A doctor herself, Ulin had never experienced anaphylaxis before, but she knew what it was and what she needed, according to an ABC News report.
The problem is that Southwest Airlines planes do not stock EpiPens, easy-to-use devices that can save the life of someone having this type of severe allergic reaction. And while these reactions are rare during air travel and passengers with known allergies likely carry their own EpiPen, the airline’s emergency kit’s contents did show that Southwest had at least poorly planned for this type of emergency.
Ulin was very lucky that there was an experienced doctor onboard because that experience was needed to administer the type of epinephrine stocked on the plane.
“Ulin said because the epinephrine was in an ampoule and not in an auto-injector format, it took multiple steps and a trained medical professional to be able to administer a safe amount of the drug,” she told Good Morning America.
It was a multi-step process that required using one kind of syringe to access the medicine in the ampoule and another kind to administer it. Had there not been a trained doctor onboard, it’s likely Ulin would have died while the needed medicine was right there, just in a way that flight attendants could not be expected to know how to use.
Doctor, Passenger Call For the FAA and Southwest to Make Changes
The FAA does require airlines to have epinephrine onboard but does not mandate that it be in the form of an easy-to-use EpiPen. That’s something FARE, a food allergy awareness group, wants to see changed.
“Most airlines today only stock vials of the drug and not the easy-to-use autoinjectors. This practice raises problems that could one day prove to be fatal. Most Americans do not know how to determine the proper dose of epinephrine to administer from a vial to treat an anaphylactic food allergy reaction, nor do they know how to safely and properly do so without an autoinjector,” the activist group shared on its website.
That’s something Ulin believes should be standard as well.
“I’m advocating for the FAA to update their requirements for airlines in the emergency medical kits, which they haven’t done in almost 20 years and is long overdue, but that must include epinephrine auto-injectors, such as an EpiPen,” Ulin said on Good Morning America.
She also asked Southwest to voluntarily make the change because it can act faster than the FAA.
Southwest, it should be noted, was in compliance with all federal regulations.