Fact check: False claim pilots started training for sudden death mid-flight in 2022

The claim: Pilots started training for sudden death during a flight in 2022

A Dec. 30, 2022, Instagram post (direct link, archive link) features a screenshot of a social media post where a woman claims her husband and other pilots are now being trained to deal with sudden death during flights.

“NEVER until this year has he ever had to while training in a simulator, practice for when a pilot suddenly ‘you know what’ and goes catatonic and slumps over and just (dies) while in flight," reads the text of the post. "Well this year it is now part of the annual training and simulator practice."

The Instagram post was liked more than 2,000 times in five days.

Comments on the post showed social media users interpreted the supposed change in training to be a result of the COVID-19 vaccine. One user said, "This has been going on since the v was introduced," and another said sudden medical episodes had been a concern of theirs ever since "I heard the airlines were making the pilots get the VAX."

Another version of the claim was shared more than 150 times on Facebook.

Our rating: False

This training is nothing new. The Federal Aviation Administration, major airlines and an aviation expert told USA TODAY that pilots have trained for in-flight incapacitation for decades. The FAA said it is not aware of any cases of in-flight pilot deaths related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pilot incapacitation training has been around for decades

Mina Kaji, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, told USA TODAY the agency has “long required flight crews to be trained on how to respond if a pilot becomes unable to perform his or her duties.”

Mike Suckow, a professor of practice at Purdue University’s School of Aviation and Transportation Technology, echoed Kaji's remarks, saying the requirement dates back several decades.

A 1993 issue of Advisory Circular, a publication by the Federal Aviation Administration, said certification programs for flights that have two or more pilots should “include a demonstration of operations during the total incapacitation of a crewmember at any point in a given flight.” The publication cited hundreds of pilot incapacitation incidents that were recorded in the 1980s.

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More recently, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations issued guidance in 2013 that said all flight operators should train for incapacitation.

There were cases of such incidents in 2022. An Envoy Air pilot became incapacitated during an Ohio-bound flight and later died in November. A Citilink Indonesia pilot died after an in-flight medical emergency in July, according to The Associated Press. Neither incident's cause is known.

Suckow said pilots routinely practice incapacitation scenarios in both their initial and recurrent training

He said such exercises are not tied to the COVID-19 vaccine, as some vaccine skeptics have speculated.

“I have not read or heard anything about anything relating to vaccines that may have accelerated any potential problems in the cockpit,” he said.

Sarah Jantz, a spokesperson for American Airlines, said there is “no validity” to the social media claim. Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant also said it's false.

Kaji said the Federal Aviation Administration has “no evidence” of aircraft accidents or pilot incapacitations caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.

More: American Airlines pilots raise 'serious safety concerns' about cockpit protocol changes

USA TODAY has also debunked an array of claims falsely linking airlines and the COVID-19 vaccines, including claims of vaccinated American Airlines and Delta pilots dying mid-flight, a claim that Southwest Airlines was striking in response to the vaccine mandate and a claim that British Airways was in “crisis talks” with the U.K. government about whether vaccinated pilots can safely fly.

USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the claim for comment.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Pilots have trained for in-flight incapacitation for years