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Published on October 5, 2023

How Commercial Airline Stretchers are Used in Emergency Medical Situations

International commercial airline stretcher flights are the preferred medevac method for patients requiring a long-distance flight and medical equipment. This service is much more cost-effective than air ambulance transport.

During this type of flight, blocks of seats are removed to accommodate the patient’s stretcher and medical equipment. The passenger cabin is curtained off for privacy.

Patient Transfer

Some patients requiring air medical repatriation, medevac, or a medical evacuation are too sick or injured to travel in an airline seat. They need to lie down for the entire duration of the flight. This is when commercial airline stretchers in flight may be necessary.

Internationally, several airlines will allow passengers to fly on a stretcher in their Patient Transport Compartment. Families can save thousands of dollars compared to using an air ambulance service for long-distance flights when using a commercial airline stretcher flight. Typically, preparing for a stretcher flight on a scheduled commercial airline takes 72 hours to a week, based on the airline’s approval and availability of routes. The airline will remove rows of seats to accommodate the stretcher and the accompanying medical staff. This is the least expensive way to transport a bedridden patient long distance. The patient can also fly with family and friends on the same flight.

Patient Assessment

Good patient assessment skills set a prehospital provider apart, whether to diagnose the condition that landed a patient on an airplane or to determine whether they are medically stable enough to fly. They are a crucial component of EMS and are necessary to help ensure patients receive the right treatment in the most timely fashion.

Just like an investigator searching for the root of a problem, a valid patient assessment requires sifting through the depth and breadth of medical knowledge to find the answer. As EMS becomes more and more specialized, strong assessment skills must remain the cornerstone of any well-trained prehospital professional’s skill set.

Airline stretcher flights are a great option for patients who require an air medical transfer, medevac, or medical repatriation service but are not stable enough to travel by ambulance. Families should contact the airline’s medical department, special services department, or “stretcher desk” to discuss options. Under certain limited circumstances, airlines have charitable programs that can provide upgrades, special airport reception, and other assistance to families in these situations.

Patient Care

Airline stretcher transport can be an excellent option for stable patients who need air medical transfer, medevac, or medical repatriation services. It can be used for patients with BLS and ALS (Advanced Life Support). This service requires proper pre-transport coordination, organization, and planning.

The patient is flown in a separate compartment with the necessary medical equipment for long-distance flights. Medical crew members travel with the patient to monitor their health during the flight and ensure they receive the appropriate care.

Injured people transported on a stretcher, such as those with a spinal injury, need a type of stretcher that firmly keeps them in place to minimize the risk of additional injuries. Depending on the specific injury, this can include basket stretchers or a spine board.

Patient Recovery

International nonemergency stretcher flights offer a viable alternative to air ambulances for stable patients who do not require immediate medical attention. This service involves having an airline install a medical stretcher on a commercial flight and assigning one or two air medical escorts to provide care throughout the flight.

To prepare for this, the airline will block rows of seats on the plane and have external providers come in to install and dismantle the stretcher. The escorts will also be available for support at the airport, during boarding, and disembarkation.


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