Singapore Airlines refuses to divert after passenger suffers heart attack?

A BBC presenter traveling back from Japan after covering the tsunami suffered from a heart attack shortly after takeoff on a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to London. Apparently the crew refused to divert the aircraft so he could receive medical attention, and now he’s possibly left with long-term heart damage.

I certainly hope there’s more to this story. It’s a bit strange that the story is only coming out about a month after the incident, as the flight landed in London March 18. Furthermore, as a miles geek I have to wonder, why was he flying from Tokyo to London via Singapore? That’s about a 4,000 mile detour. Not that it’s relevant to the story, but have to wonder if he had mileage motives!

Either way, I hope he recovers and we find out the complete story.

Filed Under: Singapore
  1. between a choice or landing and receiving medical attention in Kazakhstan or trying my luck getting London, I think I’d rather take the latter ;(

  2. I’ve been living in Japan since September, and obviously keeping options open and keeping an eye on flight prices around the time of the disaster, Singapore Airlines one-way flights from KIX to LHR via SIN were actually very reasonable and comparable (or sometimes cheaper) with more direct routings. Although I stayed, I respect the decision of those who decided to leave (or rather, many who were forced to leave – many fellow exchange students had their programs cancelled) and a significant majority fled Japan on the first available flight. Seeming as SIA normally price rather attractive one-way fares to Japan anyway (somewhere in the £700 region), this would have been a very logical thing to do.

    Hope this answers your question!

  3. Very easy to sit and second guess the situation with hindsight (even without the benefit of the actual facts). There is rarely that luxury when things are unfolding at altitude and judgement calls have to be made. The passenger DID survive the flight, which in my book means that the right call was made.

    I’ve been part of the decision chain with regards to medical diversions in the past and one of the key points that has to be considered is the welfare of the entire aircraft. The negative aspects of diverting an overweight aircraft to an offline station incapable of providing technical and logistical support often outweighs the preference to provide immediate medical care to a passenger, especially if the condition is not immediately life-threatening.

    I’ve always told my crews that whatever decision they take that results in everyone surviving is the right decision to take. On the face of the limited evidence available here and with the benefit of personal experience, I’d back the decision of the crew to continue with the flight.

  4. I have some questions regarding this sort of situation:

    If a diversion is made, who bears the cost of hotels, re-booking passengers etc? With the A380 the number of passengers increases the odds of a medical emergency, do airlines take out insurance to cover this kind of thing?

    Does the fuel always need to be dumped in this kind of situation?

  5. I’m amazed by some of the comments here, I can’t help but wonder if that person was you or your families, how many of you people here would still put the airlines’ profit above everything else? He had a heart attack shortly after taking off from Singapore, its not like the only option here is Kazakhstan.

    @Sean M.: I don’t mean to be rude, I just want to clarify something, according to your logic, as long as EVERYONE SURVIVE, no flight divert need to be made? What if the person end up disabled for the rest of his life because of the delayed medical treatment? Do airlines ever consider such outcome?

  6. I think if Singapore had come out and explained why they didn’t divert the flight that would potentially have helped ease the publicity they are now getting.

  7. @Nick – No airlines that I am aware of take out insurance to cover these (indeed, no insurance company that I am aware of even offers this coverage). Instead, they self-insure, usually with a contingency amount budgeted per block hour operated that is based upon the statistical need for medical diversions.

    Fuel dumping depends upon the aircraft weight at the time of the incident. If the aircraft is overweight, fuel needs to be either burned off or dumped in order to get the aircraft below the maximum landing weight (MLW). You can always land an aircraft above MLW but it then requires a heavy landing check to be signed off by a type-qualified engineer before it can take off again. In the case of an A380, this is not always a practical option, especially at offline airports. Indeed, landing a significantly overweight A380 (which is what it would be immediately following departure on a longhaul flight) at any airport poses considerable risk to all passengers.

    @caelus – With all due respect sir, every case is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The primary objective of inflight care is to ensure the survival of the passenger until they can be transferred into a suitable medical facility on ground. The crew will make a decision based upon the best information available to them and that keeps in mind the welfare not only of the individual passenger but also of the entire aircraft full of passengers that they are responsible for. Often this decision is not crystal clear but is made upon the balance of probabilities. In such a situation, the primary focus is on survival. If there was a clear prognosis of permanent disability, I would expect the crew to factor that into their decision matrix. That said, I have personally supported every crew member that reported to me who made a decision that resulted in the passenger’s survival and will continue to do so.

  8. @Sean- I wonder how many of the flight crew are trained as cardiologists or even paramedics? I’d hate to have a junior flight attendant deciding my fate.

    I also have to wonder if the afflicted person was the CEO of Singapore Airlines, would things have been different?

  9. I think it’s notable that this story seems to have originated in the UK’s Daily Mail, which I’d characterise as not being one to let facts get in the way of a good story. It sadly doesn’t surprise me that they chose to run a story based on second-hand information, when the individual mainly involved has said he doesn’t want to talk about it. There are always going to two sides to every story, and we’re not even getting reliable reports of one of them. It would be interesting to know exactly what happened, and why whatever decisions were made were made, but I suspect we won’t find out unless it does end up in court.

  10. @Blandon – Cabin crew have been trained to First Responder standards on every airline I’ve been involved with.

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