Aviation medical company MedAire has warned that airlines have shown little sign of reacting to the growing problem of serious passenger illness on board aircraft.

The main factor, says MedAire president Joan Sullivan Garrett, is that more passengers with marginal or serious medical conditions are taking the risk of flying. Garrett, whose company keeps a detailed database of medical events, says that some carriers have seen a year-on-year doubling in the number of incidents.

Despite the fact that the airlines are better equipped than ever with medical intervention equipment like defibrillators, Garrett says, an essential fundamental is missing: equipment that can deliver doses of humidified oxygen to passengers who need resuscitation or whose medical state becomes critical.

The greatest problem is the 8,000ft (2,440m) cabin altitude, coupled with the fact that the public and some doctors are ill-educated about the risks of flying for people with certain medical conditions. If the full European proposed regulations on passenger rights become law, Garrett says, the airlines will not be able to refuse to board a passenger with a medical condition that puts their life at risk if they fly.

Garrett says there are many actions that airlines need to take, including:

ensuring special equipment or treatment requests made by passengers at booking trigger an alert so the airline can warn the passenger of risks or request that they obtain a medical certificate; carrying out pre-flight checks on passengers that request special equipment or specific treatment; keeping appropriate medical oxygen equipment on board; training cabin crew in first aid and the use of onboard equipment and how to attend to passengers who complain of feeling unwell.

Source: Flight International