In almost every Hollywood rendition of an in-flight medical emergency, a frazzled flight attendant calls out the same question: “Is there a doctor on board?” And usually, there is.
If you’ve ever wondered what the chances of that panning out in real life are, one study published by Gatwick Airports found they’re fairly good: A trained physician is aboard approximately 11 of 12 flights.
What’s more, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in-flight medical emergencies are rare to begin with. In the study’s analysis of more than 7 million flights between 2008 and 2010, only 11,920 incidents were reported. That’s one flight for every 609. (Find out the 13 secrets airlines won’t tell you, but every passenger should know.)
The most common in-flight problems were lightheadedness and fainting, which made up 37.4 percent of cases. Respiratory symptoms (12.1% of cases) and nausea or vomiting (9.5%) were also common. Physician passengers provided medical assistance in 48.1 percent of cases, and aircraft diversion occurred in 7.3 percent of them. (Follow these smart tricks to not get sick on your next flight.)
Of the patients who experienced emergencies on their flights, 25.8 percent were transported to a hospital, 8.6 percent were admitted, and just 0.3 percent died.
So what other types of professionals might you be sitting next to on your flight, besides a doctor? The Gatwick study discovered that as well. Finance professionals are aboard 44 percent of flights; salespeople, 43 percent; media professionals, 38 percent; engineers, 32 percent; marketing professionals, 26 percent; and scientists, 20 percent.
May the odds be in your favor.