FAA Currently Has Requirements for Medicines and Supplies Required on Commercial Flights, But Recent Incident Sheds Light on Lack of Certain Child-Sized Equipment and Doses of Medication on Planes

 On A Recent Transatlantic Flight, A 2-Year Old Suffered An Asthma Attack And His Medication Was Packed In His Checked Baggage; Local Buffalo Doctor Saved The Child’s Life With Innovative, Makeshift Device – But Schumer Says Not Every Child Could Be As Lucky; A Back-Up Plan Is Needed To Prevent Tragedy

Schumer to FAA: Mandate Airlines Carry Pediatric Medical Supplies, Including Child-sized Inhalers 

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct a comprehensive review of its emergency medical equipment requirements and mandate that all airlines carry appropriate pediatric medical supplies and medicines. Schumer’s call comes on the heels of a recent transatlantic flight in which a 2-year-old boy suffered an asthma attack mid-flight and was thankfully saved by a local Buffalo doctor, Dr. Khurshid Guru of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who constructed a makeshift breathing device when time was of the essence.

“At 35,000 feet, there is very little a parent can do if their child suffers from an asthma attack or other medical emergency and the medicine or equipment they need is not in the overhead compartment, or if it malfunctions. This is a nightmare scenario a parent should never have to go through,” said Senator Schumer. “While the FAA requires all passenger flights carry certain medical supplies, the requirements do not include certain pediatric supplies, like pediatric inhalers and child-sized doses of certain medicines. This has the potential to leave children and their parents without a back-up plan, mid-flight – and it could yield tragic results. So I am asking the FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of their medical equipment requirements to ensure that the supplies kids need are on board. This fix is a no-brainer that will ensure a child’s asthma attack or other medical emergency can be treated as quickly as possible and allow everyone to  breathe a sigh of relief knowing that children are more safe.”

Schumer explained the Buffalo doctor was forced to create a this makeshift device out of a water bottle, an oxygen mask, and an adult inhaler when the young boy stopped breathing and it was discovered his medication was packed into his checked luggage and could not be accessed  during the flight.

Schumer explained that although FAA regulations require airlines to carry adult inhalers on all flights, there is no such requirement for pediatric inhalers or certain other pediatric medical supplies and medicines. Given the difference in how adult and pediatric inhalers administer medication, a child suffering from an asthma attack often cannot use an adult inhaler, especially at a very young age. As a result, Schumer is urging the FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of its emergency medical equipment requirements to ensure that the equipment and medications needed to meet the needs of children, including pediatric inhalers, are carried on all flights in order to prevent a future nightmare situation for a parent during a flight.

Schumer explained that, currently, passenger flights are required to carry emergency medical kits (EMKs) in the event a passenger needs medical attention during a flight. These EMKs include a bronchodilator, inhaled – the official name of an inhaler that administers metered dosages of medication to stop asthma attacks. However, these devices may not be appropriate for children. While children suffering from asthma attacks also use inhalers, they often must use pediatric devices. Adult inhalers also require the patient to breathe out, breathe in the medication, hold their breath, and then breathe out again - a process that could be difficult for a child as young as two to comprehend, especially in an emergency situation, Schumer noted. Although parents or guardians are permitted to carry their child’s inhalers onto passenger planes, if an inhaler is packed into checked luggage, and is therefore inaccessible during flight, or if the child's inhaler malfunctions, an asthma attack could become a serious life-threatening situation.

Schumer said that while Dr. Guru, Director of Robotic Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was able to use a water bottle, cup, tape and an oxygen tank to connect to an adult nebulizer to save the child, it is not always the case that a physician is even on board a plane. As a result, Schumer said more precautions must be in place to ensure a child suffering from an asthma attack or other medical emergency can get the medical attention he or she needs, even if that situation occurs mid-flight. Despite this miraculous life-saving coincidence, Schumer said this situation should serve as a wake-up call about the need to ensure that airlines are prepared to handle child asthma attacks and other medical emergencies.

“In this case, thank heavens for D. Guru who acted professionally and miraculously to help this at-risk child, but most flights don’t have quick-thinking medical heroes on board, which is why the FAA must make sure that all flights have the right medical supplies and dosages for our kids,” said Schumer.

As a result, Schumer said it is critical that airlines be required to carry a pediatric inhaler and other pediatric medical supplies on all flights to ensure children can receive the proper care if they experience medical emergencies. Schumer is asking the FAA to conduct a comprehensive review of airline EMKs to ensure that they include the medical supplies, liked pediatric inhalers, needed to meet the needs of children. Schumer said this administrative change has the potential to save lives and ensure children suffering from medical emergencies on planes will be able to receive the care they need.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the FAA Federal Air Surgeon appears below:

Dear Dr. Fraser:

I write regarding the requirements for onboard emergency medical equipment, and I specifically urge you to reevaluate the requirements to ensure that the appropriate pediatric equipment, medication, and supplies are included in air carriers’ Emergency Medical Kits (EMK).

In order to treat passengers effectively, the appropriate medical supplies need to be on board. On a recent transatlantic flight, a two-year little boy old began suffering an asthma attack, but his parents had accidentally packed his asthma medication in their luggage. The plane only had an adult inhaler on board, which the child was unable to use. Fortunately, using a water bottle and an oxygen tank, a Buffalo doctor was able to construct a makeshift device from the adult inhaler that the child was able to use. This child’s life may have been saved due to the doctor’s ingenuity, but this story has also cast a light on the shortfalls of the current Emergency Medical Kit requirements. I urge the FAA to reevaluate the needs and current requirements to ensure that the appropriate equipment, medication, and supplies are required and available in the event that a child suffers a medical emergency in flight.

As you know, most passenger airlines are required to carry at least one Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and an Emergency Medical Kit containing a variety of approved medicines and medical supplies. According to a 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, commercial airlines serve approximately 2.75 billion passengers worldwide annually, and there are an estimated 44,000 in-flight medical emergencies each year. While, fortunately, not all of these medical emergencies end up being serious, the required supplies, equipment, and medicines are absolutely critical to treating passengers experiencing sometimes life-threatening medical emergencies until the plane can land safely.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator


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