Home » Blog » Currently Reading:

In-flight medical problems and emergencies

October 14, 2014 Blog No Comments

In-flight medical problems and emergencies


  • Practice English skills in an aviation context
  • Become familiar with relevant medical terminology
  • Have fun!

“Is there a doctor onboard?!” It’s a familiar scene from movies – Hollywood loves a medical emergency. So does the media. A woman giving birth on a plane, for example, is a great news story – and it happens.

Unfortunately, recently there have also been news stories of passengers suffering cardiac arrest and dying before being able to reach appropriate care.  There is also a recent story about some unexpected turbulence on an American flight that caused injuries to 24 passengers and 4 crew members.

To quote one study, “In-flight medical events are a potentially significant problem. The airliner cabin at 35,000 feet is far from advanced medical care, space is restricted, the appropriate and necessary equipment for handling a given emergency may or may not be present, and qualified medical personnel are not generally available unless they are travelling on board as passengers. The cabin environment is also pressurised to an altitude in the range of 4,000 to 8,000 feet, which may pose its own difficulties for passengers with certain medical emergencies such as respiratory or cardiac arrest . Without treatment, a passenger suffering from a heart attack is unlikely to survive.

(Source: http://www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/955.pdf)

Minor medical problems might include motion sickness, ear pain and gastro, while more serious medical problems include fainting, food poisoning and injuries.  More examples are listed in the following article that suggests the growing number of older passengers combined with longer flights means an increase in the number in-flight health issues can be expected.

It’s impossible for a flight attendant to be trained to deal with every kind of medical problem that might arise onboard, so it might also be wise to practice that line, “Is there a doctor onboard?”!

Link to article ‘In-flight health issues on rise’


1. An ageing population means passengers are boarding planes with ____________ health problems, researchers warn.

2. __________ __________ __________ could also increase the risk to health, they say.

3. In general, passengers should be able to ___________________________________ and __________________________________ if they are to be deemed fit to travel.

4. Several outbreaks of serious infections such as __________, __________, __________ and __________ have been reported on commercial flights.

Table 5: Types of medical event or injury (from An Analysis of In-flight Passenger Injuries and Medical Conditions , 1 January 1975 to 31 March 2006) (Source: http://www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/955.pdf)

Condition Number Percentage of total
Anxiety/panic attack 2 0.70%
Bruising/lacerations 14 4.93%
Burns 4 1.41%
Drunk and/or violent 14 4.93%
Ear injury 1 0.35%
Eye injury 3 1.06%
Fitting episode 8 2.82%
Food poisoning 3 1.06%
Fractures/dislocations 9 3.17%
Fumes 1 0.35%
Head injury 29 10.21%
Heart attack 43 15.14%
Loss of consciousness 5 1.76%
Motion sickness 4 1.41%
Musculoskeletal injury 74 26.06%
Obstetric emergency 1 0.35%

Table 5: Continued

Condition Number Percentage of total
Pain 2 0.70%
Respiratory illness 9 3.17%
Stroke 2 0.70%
Suicide 1 0.35%
Unspecified serious illness 11 3.87%
Unspecified illness 44 15.49%
Total 284 100%
  1. Which type of medical problem occurred most frequently during the time period for this survey?
  2. The survey told that all burns were due to hot drink spills. 50 % adult and 50% infant. How many in total?
  3. Which condition do you think would be most likely brought on by fear of flying?
  4. Which might require cabin crew restrain the passenger/passengers?
  5. 43 passengers experienced ______________.



  1. An ageing population means passengers are boarding planes with existing health problems, researchers warn.
  2. Extended flight times could also increase the risk to health, they say.
  3. In general, passengers should be able to walk a distance of 50m and climb one flight of stairs without angina or shortness of breath if they are to be deemed fit to travel.
  4. Several outbreaks of serious infections such as influenza, measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and tuberculosis have been reported on commercial flights.
  1. Musculoskeletal injury
  2. 4
  3. Anxiety/panic attack (Drunk/violent another possible answer here)
  4. Drunk/violent
  5. Heart attack

Comment on this Article:

Login Status

You are not currently logged in.

» Register
» Lost your Password?


  • No categories

Connect to Us

Facebook Twitter Youtube Linkedin

Featured Posts

Interesting Airline Brands


Interesting Airline Brands   According to a survey conducted, Virgin Atlantic emerged as the best airline brand for 2009, with British Airways tailing closely. Some of the other names that came on top in various categories include brands like Emirates, Singapore Airlines, EasyJet, Qatar Airways, BMI and Swiss International. These …

Parts of an Aircraft


TOPIC: Parts of an Aircraft GOAL: To learn the major parts of an aircraft by location and function Level: Easy 1. Read about the various major parts of an airplane, then proceed to Step 2 Although there are many aircraft designs flying today, most of them share a common assembly …



TOPIC: Meteorology   GOAL: To learn about aviation meteorology and its role in aviation safety   Exercise #1: Read about aviation meteorology and then proceed to Exercise #2 Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and short term forecasting (in contrast with climatology). …

Flight Attendant Interviews


Flight Attendant Interviews Aim Practice English skills in an aviation context Learn some interview skills and gain confidence Have fun! Do you know anyone who breezes through interviews without a hint of nervousness?  Wouldn’t that be great?  Unfortunately, it’s rare!  Most of us get nervous just thinking about it, and …


Aircraft fire

TOPIC: Fires   GOAL: To learn Aviation English vocabulary related to the dangers of aircraft fires and their causes.     Exercise #1: Read about aircraft fires, and then proceed to Exercise #2 Perhaps few things are as scary as an aircraft fire. They are serious business because, unlike an …

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software