medical emergency

Ask the pilot: How are Medical emergencies onboard handled?

The experts with all the answers are, of course, the pilots.

October 2022
What does the flight crew do during a flight? How do they plan for bad weather? Who better to answer such questions than the pilots themselves.

“It’s a situation that airline crews constantly train to ­handle.”

What happens if someone has a medical emergency onboard?


Hi Britta,

SAS flies more than 30 million passengers a year, so inevitably medical emergencies sometimes happen onboard. It’s a situation that airline crews constantly train to ­handle.

Flying 10km above the ground, the cabin attendants are the first responders in case of a medical emergency. They are trained to deliver first aid and begin the process of getting additional help for the sick person. On all commercial aircraft there are emergency medical kits stocked with a variety of equipment and medicines and most aircraft carry defibrillators. Experience has shown that on many flights there are medical professionals such as doctors or nurses who can also assist in medical assessment and treatment.

When there is a medical emergency in the air, the cabin attendants will notify the pilots immediately. On our long-haul aircraft, it’s possible to get professional medical advice over the radio 24/7.

If somebody needs to get on the ground as soon as possible we will declare a medical emergency. Once an inflight medical emergency is declared, the air traffic controllers will give the aircraft priority in the airspace. Before deciding where to land, we need to find out which airport is the most suitable to divert to. The airport has to be able to handle jet aircraft and the weather must be good enough to land. There also has to be a medical facility for the sick passenger.

Fortunately, most medical problems we see onboard can be solved fairly easily, but when something more severe happens, the crew is prepared and has the skill and knowledge to handle the situation in the best way possible.

Pernilla Nilsson
Senior First Officer

Pernilla Nilsson

Title: Senior First Officer
Home base: Copenhagen
Flies: A319, A320, A321
Flight hours: 13,500
Favorite airport: Most of the Norwegian airports. They can be very challenging in harsh weather but a beautiful day it’s unbeatable. The landscape is fantastic with the mountains and fjords. You’ll never get tired of this view.