United Airlines is under fire for declining to make an emergency landing to secure medical assistance for a passenger who appeared to be having repeated seizures and going in and out of consciousness during a flight from Houston to Cincinnati on Sunday. But a spokesperson for United Airlines tells Yahoo Lifestyle that crew members were following protocol and “did everything the right way.”
The incident was caught on video by another passenger, Amy Sanford Hammond of Mason, Ohio, who was seated behind the ailing woman. She shared the clip on Facebook, saying she was “stunned” at the flight crew’s refusal to address the situation. In the clip, the woman — a young mom accompanied by her little boy, according to Hammond — is mostly obscured by the back of her seat, but it is apparent that she’s convulsing. A young man who identified himself as a firefighter, Hammond told Newsweek, is seen tending to the distressed passenger while another person, who allegedly had medical training, looks over his shoulder.
“While the plane was still ascending, she passed out,” Hammond recalls of the incident, reporting that the man seated directly in front of the passenger jumped up to help and yelled for a doctor, but “no one came.” The mom soon woke up and started having her first seizure, which began an alarming pattern of convulsing, passing out and regaining consciousness that lasted two hours — the duration of the flight, according to Hammond. She says it happened “dozens of times.”
Hammond writes that the Good Samaritan who was trying to help the passenger kept asking flight attendants for the approximate time of arrival, but this never prompted airline staff to land the plane for a medical emergency. “Do we turn around? No!,” Hammond wrote. “Then she has a seizure. A few minutes later, her body convulses again. Do we turn around? No.”
Hammond says flight attendants not only failed to intervene but were also even climbing over the man in the aisle to serve refreshments to other passengers. At one point, the pilot can be heard over the intercom telling passengers the flight would be landing in 30 minutes and reciting the weather conditions at their destination while the Good Samaritan struggles to reposition the woman, telling her, “Hey, you gotta wake up.” All told, Hammond says the “hero” passenger was “working on” the ailing mom for more than an hour before paramedics finally made it onto the plane.
But a United Airlines spokesperson tells Yahoo Lifestyle that airline workers were not ignoring the passenger’s seizures and had addressed the situation exactly as they were trained to do so. “When there is a customer emergency, safety is [the crew’s] No. 1 priority,” he said. “They assessed the situation, reached out to medical professionals on the ground and asked for assistance on the plane.” He says the two men who were helping the passenger had already been vetted by crew members.
He said the advice the flight crew received was to continue with the flight. “Had the medical professionals we were working with on the plane and on the ground recommended that the pilot divert, then we would have absolutely followed that recommendation,” the spokesperson said.
By the time the plane landed, Hammond writes, the passenger was so disoriented she had no idea what month or day it was and could not name the president. Hammond says she was so angry that she made sure to be the last one to exit the plane so she could voice her concerns about the situation. That’s when, she says, the pilot told her it was he who made the call to stay in the air despite the passenger’s seizures.
Commenters on Facebook had mixed reactions to the video. Some were as appalled as Hammond, writing, “This is so upsetting — the pilot made an awful decision to keep the plane in the air,” and “United should be ashamed of themselves for not landing the plane.” But others suggested those commenters were jumping to conclusions, with one saying, “I’m guessing the majority of you don’t know it’s extremely dangerous to land a plane immediately after take off if it’s above MLW [maximum landing weight], but please continue to be ‘arm chair quarterbacks’ over this situation.”
The United Airlines spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle the company respects the privacy of its customers and wouldn’t identify the two men who volunteered to help. He also declined to comment on the condition of the sick passenger.
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