“You might think that this request is a bit bold”

By | September 1st, 2009

usEvery now and then I come across a case that leaves me deeply conflicted. This is one of those times.

Joel Pomerantz is a doctor who did the right thing, no question about it. A passenger on a US Airways flight needed help, and he volunteered his services. What happened next — and what to do about it — is less clear.

I could use your help, readers.

Here’s what happened to Pomerantz in his own words. It’s a letter he wrote to US Airways after the flight:

On July 12, 2009, I was traveling with my wife, Judy, in celebration of her 50th birthday on USAirways FLIGHT #718 (Philadelphia to Rome), SEATS 20G & 20H. I had just fallen asleep when I was interrupted by an emergency call from the crew asking for a doctor to assist with one of your passengers.

I am a practicing physician in Philadelphia. After hearing the flight crew’s request for medical assistance, I volunteered to help.

The passenger had overdosed on prescription sleeping medication. Interestingly enough, the flight attendants had allowed her to consume at least four bottles of wine and at least one small bottle of liquor. She attempted to breach the door of the flight crew and to turn on her cell phone to call the President of the United States to tell him she was being kidnapped. In addition, she exhibited other psychotic delusions.


Simultaneous to asking me for my medical help, the flight crew initiated a call to the ground. The on ground physician thought that the plane should make an emergency landing. I believe we were over Scotland or Ireland at the time.

I assessed the passenger, examined her and treated her in the air. I started forced hydration, induced vomiting, and sat with her for the next four hours until we landed. I personally monitored her vital signs every 15 minutes. This was done in conjunction with the on ground physician.

During the same time I was treating the passenger, I was asked to attend to another passenger who was experiencing headaches and dizziness due to increased blood pressure. I reviewed her medications, examined her, and treated her blood pressure (240/140) with extra doses of her medication.

When we landed, I was offered a bottle of champagne for my services. Neither my wife nor I drink. No alternate compensation (meal, transportation, or hotel voucher) was offered to us.

Although I am astonished that the passenger could be allowed to consume so much alcohol while in flight and/or be allowed to board the plane in such condition, I am a physician and personally feel a duty to respond to such situation as occurred on our flight to Italy to celebrate my wife’s birthday. That being said our “vacation flight” was interrupted to our detriment by non-sleep and exhaustion upon arrival in Italy. In reality, our long-awaited vacation, (I work about 80 hours a week and had planned to relax) which was supposed to begin on arrival after a nights sleep on the plane, did not start until the next day after we had caught up on our rest.