Giving out free miles to attract doctors on flights is ultimately cheaper than what it would cost for the airline to provide doctors, or the equivalent training for its own staff.
Turkish Airlines has become the latest carrier to reward doctors with free air miles if they identify themselves when booking a flight.
Although airline cabin crew do receive medical training, many prefer a GP or nurse to be present to administer drugs or conduct tests.
“We know where the medical doctors are sitting in advance, and the cabin attendants can call them to help us,” Dr Temel Kotil, chief executive of Turkish Airlines, told the Independent.
The most common in-flight emergencies are minor conditions such as dizziness and gastric problems, which are often aggravated by altitude, fatigue, or consumption of alcohol and sedatives.
But serious problems such as heart attacks will often require the plane to be diverted, which may cost an airline thousands of pounds. Airlines trying to keep costs down appear increasingly keen to avoid any inaccurate diagnosis.
The size of the incentive provided by Turkish Airlines, however – 5,000 frequent-flier points, which would not even cover an upgrade on a domestic flight – was described as “stingy” by a leading travel medicine specialist.
In-flight medical emergencies have become more common in recent years, due to the rising number of air travellers, the aging population of many developed countries, and the increasing mobility of people with chronic illnesses.
The introduction of planes with larger capacities, such as the Airbus A380 – which can carry in excess of 500 travellers – have also made problems more likely.
According to the British Medical Journal, in-flight emergencies occur at a rate of around one per 11,000 passengers. Around 70 per cent of incidents are handled by cabin crew.
The most frequent complaints include chest pain, fainting/collapse, asthma – the most common life threatening condition, head injuries caused by falling luggage, mental health problems such as anxiety, and gastric problems.
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