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Nurses Take to the Sky at American Airlines

Monday April 2, 2001
In American Airlines' SKYCAARE program, nurses take to the air to care for travellers with special needs.
In American Airlines' SKYCAARE program, nurses take to the air to care for travellers with special needs.
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Buy a ticket, pack your bag and call a nurse? American Airlines new SKYCAARE program offers traveling nurse companions to customers with special medical needs. Intended for travelers with limited medical needs, American Airlines hopes their new program will provide a useful service to those who need an extra helping hand.
American Airlines developed the SKYCAARE program to provide for the special needs of their customers and in response to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "People with medical conditions may need to travel for a variety of reasons," said Dr. David McKenas, American's corporate medical director. "Some may need medical care that is not available in their hometown, while others might need to return home after becoming ill during travel." He also shared that because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, all air carriers are now required to offer assistance to customers who are ill but stable enough for air travel. "Not all people with an illness require an air ambulance, but that is often the only option available and it can be an expensive one. American's new SKYCAARE program offers personalized attention by offering skilled medical travel companions at an affordable price for passengers that do not require the full range of medical services provided by more expensive air ambulance services."
Michelle Kolling RN, BSN, heads up the SKYCAARE nursing team. Michelle, an experienced ED nurse was working part time in the American Airlines Dallas, Fort Worth airport emergency first aid clinic when she heard about the program. She was approached by the airline in June of last year to help develop the program. She believes this is an important service that will quickly gain popularity among consumers. She proudly said that the nurses working in the program are "the best of the best" in the nursing field. All of American Airlines nurses have emergency department and flight nurse experiences, are ACLS and preferably PALS certified. Presently there is a small core staff working in the program but more nurses will be hired as the program expands.
A customer can request SKYCAARE services by calling American Airlines reservations. Under the program, the customer buys two adjacent seats at a 30 percent discount off the full fare and pays an hourly fee for the SKYCAARE nurse. Before the trip, the nurse consults with the traveler and obtains standing orders from the traveler's physician regarding medications, special meals, oxygen and other care. Based on the needs of the traveler, the nurse may feed, give medications, or provide other care needed by the traveler during the flight.
One of the first test cases handled by the SKYCAARE team was an emotional, high profile case involving five children that had survived a car accident that had killed their parents. After four of the five children were released from a Dallas area hospital, they needed air transportation to Salt Lake City where relatives were awaiting them. Two of the children were recovering from extensive orthopedic injuries and were in casts. The children's grandparents planned to fly with the children but with the medical needs of the children and after having lost members of their family, they were overwhelmed. When the grandparents called American Airlines for reservations, they told the customer service representative about their plight. They were immediately put in touch with the American Airlines Special Assistance Coordinator. The SKYCAARE team helped transport the children and helped a grieving family through a difficult time.
American Airlines is already looking for ways to improve the SKYCAARE program and offer more advance services to their customers. The company is looking into using medical telemetry equipment that would allow ground physicians the means of monitoring a patient's pulse, blood oxygen, and EKG. Physicians would then be able to provide real time advice based on downloaded medical information and advise the SKYCAARE nurse on the appropriate medical measures. American Airlines was the first US airline to equip its planes with automatic external defibrillators and enhanced medical kits.
For now, American's SKYCAARE program is offered only through their Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago airport hubs. The company, does however, plan to expand the program to include all its national flights and international flights as well.
When commercial air travel became available in the early part of the last century, nurses were hired as the first stewardesses. Things certainly have changed. American Airlines takes nursing to new heights and offers a valuable new service to the traveling public.