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Choking First Aid at 30,000 Feet: What to Expect on a Plane

May 10, 2019

Choking First Aid at 30,000 Feet: What to Expect on a Plane

Flying in an airplane may be one of the safest forms of travel, but it’s still nerve-wracking to think about what could go wrong. Specifically, what if you have a medical emergency such as choking at 30,000 feet? Can you expect first aid from the crew? What should you do?

According to a 2013 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, about 44,000 medical emergencies occur on flights worldwide each year, and most are related to fainting, nausea, vomiting and common illnesses. There aren’t any specific statistics on choking, but in general, an extremely small number of in-flight emergencies (less than 1 percent) are fatal.

If you were to choke while on a flight, the crew would be your first responders. Flight attendants are trained in the standard choking first-aid treatments, including back slaps and abdominal thrusts, commonly known as the Heimlich maneuver. They are also usually certified in CPR, which should be administered if a choking victim becomes unconscious.

You may have been on a flight where you’ve heard the crew ask if there was a doctor or other healthcare professional on board. Every plane that holds 30 passengers or more must be equipped with a defibrillator and an emergency medical kit, according to the FAA, but some of the things in the kit such as drugs may only be legally used by a doctor. In The New England Journal of Medicine study, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who happened to be traveling were able to help in about 75 percent of medical emergencies.

Still, that is clearly no guarantee that a doctor would be nearby should you choke, and the cramped quarters of a plane also make delivering first-aid treatments such as the Heimlich maneuver rather challenging. A quick response is crucial when it comes to choking, as just a few moments without air can severely damage the brain.

This is why we believe that our innovative anti-choking device, The Dechoker, should be available on every plane in the sky. Just as defibrillators have become a new standard of care in heart health emergencies in recent years, The Dechoker should be a standard piece of first-aid equipment.

The Dechoker has a plastic face mask attached to a suction syringe. To use it, simply apply the mask to a choking person’s mouth and nose, and pull back on the syringe. In many cases, the food or object that is blocking the airway becomes dislodged in just seconds.

With the guidance of the many doctors, federal regulators and other specialists who have worked on our team for years, we recommend The Dechoker not as a replacement for traditional anti-choking treatments such as the Heimlich, but as an alternative that’s available should those treatments fail. In the case of airplane travel, where quarters are tight, it’s easy to see how using The Dechoker might be a better option in some cases.

To read more about how we’re beginning to stem the tide of choking deaths, check out other posts here on our blog, and visit our website to learn more about The Dechoker and how it works.


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