Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Should We Divert?

Several months ago I wrote about a passenger issue concerning a child traveling with a severe peanut allergy. The flight was ultimately operated without incident and everybody seemed pleased with the outcome.

A recent flight of mine brought all that allergy business back into play.

Departure: Madrid, Spain

Destination: Dallas/Ft Worth, TX

Typically when we arrive at the aircraft, one of the first things we do is look over the logbook for any write-ups made by the inbound crew or any items that are currently inoperative and awaiting repairs. We also look back over several days or more worth of write-ups just to get a general idea of what has been going on with the maintenance on that particular aircraft.

This day our aircraft had just arrived from Miami and was one of the newer 767's. It had all the newer nav equipment and some other bonus features.
A check of the logbook revealed some nuisance cabin issues that were being corrected prior to boarding. The only cockpit item that was inoperative was the SatCom (satellite communication) radio system. It had been inop for a couple of days so we knew it wasn't going to get repaired in Madrid. A visit with the mechanic on duty confirmed this as well.

The SatCom allows us to communicate with our dispatchers and maintenance technicians from just about anywhere in the world. The quality of the communication is outstanding. It is a favorite among the pilot group. We hoped we wouldn't need it this day.
After a lengthy delay for departing traffic, we finally launched and headed west for the ten hour leg to Texas.

It was business as usual for the first hour and a half of flight.

Then the cockpit chime rang.
The purser was calling to advise us that a lady passenger was having an allergic reaction to the pesto sauce in her meal. The lady reported that she always travels with Benadryl (for this very reason), but she somehow managed to forget it this time and she inadvertently ate the pesto sauce.

The lady was asking the flight attendants if we had any Benadryl on board that she could take. Now that might be a good solution to the problem, but I couldn't possibly condone any of our cabin crew dispensing any kind of medication without the proper authorization! Not in today's society! So my answer was a definite "NO.....but Standby."

By now we were getting close to the Azores so I asked the first officer to check with Santa Maria on our HF radio for the latest Lajes weather (just in case).
It was marginal....the other options would be to turn around and land in Lisbon or return to Madrid.

So this is where the SatCom would have come in handy.

My employer has a program in place just for situations like this. There is always a physician on call available to answer any questions or to assess a passengers condition via radio voice call or phone patch. It's not perfect but it is far better than having an untrained airline crew attempting to diagnose an ailing passenger.
The only problem with this program is that we have to be able to contact them via radio! So that wasn't going to be an option this day so we had to find another solution.

I was in almost constant communication with our purser and she was reporting that the lady was beginning to have difficulty breathing.

All of our planes carry a medical kit on board with basic first aid and certain other medical supplies. But the only one authorized to dispense any of the medicine is a qualified physician.

So the next option was to make a PA announcement asking if there was a physician on board that would assist.
With over 200 passengers on board this day we were lucky to have a Spanish physician answer the call. He assessed the lady's condition and administered the equivalent of Benadryl that was in the onboard medical kit.

Her condition did not seem to be improving as we pushed westward, but it wasn't worsening either. We were now well past the Azores and our next suitable divert option was Keflavik, Iceland. However, the physician seemed to be of the opinion that she was going to be okay so we pressed on towards home.

Another hour passed and she was now improving. Her breathing was back to normal and the physician seemed happy with her condition.

We would soon have VHF radio capability and would be advising our dispatcher of our situation. By the time we passed Gander, Newfoundland, all was well in the cabin and the remaining hours passed without any further issues.

Typically an Atlantic crossing consists of a few radio position reports, some basic map plotting, a crew meal, a bathroom break, and maybe some other mundane tasks. This crossing would prove to be far different. I can't remember ever having been so busy on any given leg.

Thankfully this day we had the good fortune to have a physician on board and we were grateful for his services. I personally thanked him when we landed and he was very gracious about the entire incident. A good guy for sure!!

That SatCom would have been a great help.....Good thing that we didn't have to divert!

For a look at some more of my photos, please aviate over to Plane & Simple.