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CPR and AED Education Awareness: Increasing Survival Rates in Air Travel Emergencies

Updated: May 31, 2023

Passenger CPR and AED Education  in Air Travel Emergencies
Passenger CPR and AED Education in Air Travel Emergencies

In today's world, where air travel has become a routine part of our lives, it is essential to address the potential risks and emergencies that can occur onboard an aircraft. Recent research suggests that thousands of air travelers experience cardiac arrest each year, with approximately 25% of these incidents happening during a flight. However, thanks to the widespread availability of CPR and automated external defibrillators (AEDs), survival rates for such emergencies are higher than the national average.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, a new study sheds light on the frequency of cardiac arrests and the efficacy of life-saving interventions onboard airplanes. With the summer season witnessing a surge in air travel following pandemic-related restrictions, this study gains significance in promoting awareness and preparedness.

Given the relatively infrequent occurrence of cardiac arrests during commercial flights, there has been limited research on their prevalence, the utilization of emergency interventions, and the outcomes. To bridge this knowledge gap, the researchers examined records from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, focusing on adults who received emergency medical services for cardiac arrest—a condition caused by a sudden malfunction of the heart's electrical system. It is important to note that while heart attacks can trigger cardiac arrest, other heart-related and non-heart-related issues can also be contributing factors.

Over a period of 16 years, from 2004 to 2019, the researchers analyzed 143 cases of cardiac arrest that occurred before the arrival of emergency medical services. Out of these, 34 incidents (24%) transpired during a flight, while 109 (76%) occurred outside the aircraft. The study revealed that individuals who experienced cardiac arrest at the airport had a 44% survival rate upon reaching the hospital, whereas those who encountered the emergency while onboard the plane had a survival rate of 15%.

Notably, even the survival rate for in-flight cardiac arrests exceeds the national average of less than 11% for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, underscoring the importance of CPR and AEDs. Dr. Neal Chatterjee, the lead author of the study, highlighted that all survivors of in-flight cardiac arrests received prompt AED treatment. He emphasized the significance of early intervention in saving lives and called for increased training and awareness among flight attendants, airport staff, and bystanders to improve outcomes in such emergencies.

Dr. Chatterjee further advised that if a bystander witnesses someone collapsing or becoming unresponsive, they should immediately alert a flight attendant or airport employee. In an airport setting, if one is comfortable performing CPR until professional help arrives, they should proceed accordingly. On the other hand, if the emergency occurs during a flight, it is crucial to promptly inform the flight crew and follow their instructions.

Creating a calm and organized environment with designated individuals in charge is vital. Trusting the expertise of the flight crew and offering assistance in resuscitation efforts only when requested can contribute to better outcomes. Dr. Chatterjee, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Washington Medical Center, stressed the need for collaboration between the airline industry and federal agencies to optimize training and the application of AEDs in managing cardiac arrest incidents.

Extrapolating the study's findings to global air travel, where approximately 5 billion people fly commercially each year, it is estimated that there are around 2,000 travel-associated cardiac arrests annually, with 350 of them occurring in the United States alone. Dr. Chatterjee believes that this study delivers a powerful message on the importance of CPR training for bystanders and highlights the need for the airline industry to collaborate with federal agencies to enhance cardiac arrest care, particularly in terms of AED utilization.

Center for Resuscitation Science, commended the study for demonstrating that survival rates above the national average can be achieved when cardiac arrest incidents are witnessed on planes or in airports, and CPR and AED interventions are promptly administered. He described the study as reassuring for air travel passengers and called for concerted efforts to improve survival rates in other settings as well.

Dr. Abella also emphasized the need to expand research in other transportation modes, such as passenger trains, which remain largely unexplored in terms of cardiac arrest incidents despite serving a broader population.

The study's findings highlight the importance of CPR and AED education and awareness in air travel. With the increasing number of passengers taking to the skies, equipping flight attendants, airport staff, and even bystanders with the knowledge and skills to respond effectively in cardiac arrest emergencies becomes imperative. By providing early interventions and access to life-saving equipment like AEDs, we can significantly improve survival rates and ensure safer travel experiences for everyone. This research serves as a call to action for the airline industry, medical professionals, and regulatory authorities to collaborate in enhancing CPR and AED education awareness, not only in aviation but across all modes of transportation. Together, we can make a difference in saving lives and fostering a culture of preparedness in emergency situations.

Source: Learn, Enjoy, and Save Life. Healthforce Training Center offers CPR Training and certifications such as Basic Life Support (BLS), Advance Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advance Life Support (PALS), CPR AED, Pediatric First Aid CPR AED, and First Aid CPR AED.

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