Since the earliest days of commercial aviation, airlines have coped with medical emergencies in flight by calling on physicians who happen to be passengers. And as more people travel by air, the number of emergencies has risen accordingly. “Passenger health is becoming more and more of an issue, because of increased life expectancy and more people flying with pre-existing conditions,” said Dr. Paulo Alves, a vice president at MedAire, a company that provides crew members with medical advice from physicians on the ground.
Airborne calls for medical assistance pose a singular challenge for physicians, who find themselves suddenly caring for a stranger whose history they don’t know, often with a problem well outside their specialty, in a setting with limited equipment but no shortage of onlookers scrutinizing their every move
He also books his flights with “Dr.” in front of his name. “That’s so that if I’m asleep, they might wake me,” he said. And he doesn’t take sleeping pills or drink alcohol in flight. “The last thing you want to do is be woken up and not be with it,”