It was an evening flight from Kolkata to Mumbai on January 12, 2018. I was onboard Jet Airways 9W0616 seated at 25E and in a freak accident choked on water after dinner. Crew administered First Aid but I felt uneasy throughout the journey. Despite repeatedly asking for medical aid on landing, no help was at hand. Since I was seated at 25E, I had to take last shuttle bus and had to find the airport doctor myself in that huge terminal 2 of Mumbai airport. Classic case of deplorable negligence meted out to a passenger in need of medical assistance!
So it was that after I choked, I was still breathing but feeling very restless with a blocked sensation in my throat. I thought death was imminent. I stood up from my seat and went to the rear washroom and informed the crew about my situation. They gave hot water intermittently, 2 Digene and administered a chest thrust. One of the air hostesses checked my pulse and found it normal. Announcement was also made calling for any doctor in the cabin – one gentleman came forth and said that I should be alright. But I was not alright. I still felt some blockage in my throat and felt uneasy breathing. I kept asking for medical aid to be arranged immediately on landing. My whole focus was to just keep breathing and my hope was to reach the airport and get medical aid promptly. Who knew then that my hope will be crushed so carelessly by the very airline I paid for and trusted? I was seating in the galley and visiting washroom intermittently throughout the episode which lasted for around an hour in the flight.
I had to return to my seat at 25E for landing at Mumbai airport. While deboarding, no priority was given in exiting though I had a medical exigency which demands preferential treatment. To my utter dismay, I even had to remind Jet Airways crew at the exit that I needed medical aid and I only felt that they were only too happy to see me deboard the plane. On reminding, one of the airhostesses accompanied me down the aisle and called for a ground staff to enquire about the airport doctor. All was a formality process without a hint of empathy which is core to a service industry. I was in for another disappointment when the ground staff had no clue about how to access the airport doctor. In the midst of all this, the airhostess even got distracted making small talk with some other passengers who expressed how nice it was to meet after a long time. Eventually, the ground staff simply asked me to enquire with the guard at the arrival gate.
After this, I boarded the shuttle bus. Since I was seated at 25E, I was amongst the last to deboard the plane and amongst the last to board the shuttle bus. The crew was also in the bus but they hardly seemed concerned about a passenger with a medical need and did not even care to ask how I was. After alighting from the bus, I had to handle my luggage while at the same time run around looking for the guard. Unfortunately, the guard at the ground floor also had no clue about how to contact the airport doctor. The cabin crew was still around and the air steward simply shouted out aloud, “He won’t know”, instead of helping me. The guard further directed me to another guard at 1st floor.
At the 1st floor, the guard got busy with “Madam, aap ka boarding pass dikhaye?” instead of helping me get medical aid. So I raised my voice reminding him I need to see the airport doctor though I did not want to put any pressure on my throat which may aggravate the blocking sensation. At that juncture, one of the Jet Airways ground staff was passing by and I asked him for his assistance in getting me to the airport doctor. The ground staff took me to Jet Airways office in another floor. The office staff was caught by surprise when asked for medical aid, and they took around 10 mins enquiring on phone about the airport doctor. It is agonizing that it took such a long time for them to find medical assistance at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport – one of the busiest airports in the world. On getting the required information, a Jet Airways porter was made to assist me to the airport doctor in yet another floor.
I explained the situation to the doctor and told him about the aid that was administered to me on the flight. The doctor ausculated and checked my blood pressure and pulse. He then administered 2 antacids and asked me to sit for some time there to know if the antacids worked. On being asked why a choking in a flight could lead to such scenario wherein I felt a blocking sensation in my throat and wanted to release the air by burping but could not do so, he said that the atmospheric pressure on flight is not the same as on land and the air cabin pressure must have aggravated the choking. The spasm of the esophagus during the choke could have created the blockage in my throat making it difficult for me to breathe, so in the given situation it is critical to ensure that there is no reflux in any way which would put any further pressure on my throat. He then prescribed medicines, advised me to sleep with my head elevated and asked me to consult a doctor in the coming days if the breathlessness persisted.
In the ensuing days, the breathlessness persisted and so I consulted both an ENT Specialist and a Gastroenterologist. I underwent endoscopy and biopsy as advised. A deeper examination was done in the endoscopy since I was complaining of blockage in my throat. The endoscopy result shows swelling in the arytenoid which was creating the blocking sensation in my throat. Currently, I am undergoing treatment for the same. I received the biopsy report on 25.01.18 and it is normal.
It is extremely distressing to experience first-hand the sheer negligence meted out by Jet Airways to a passenger in need of medical aid. I was a woman from the North-East travelling alone and even after having categorically asked for medical aid on landing, neither any medical aid was provided on landing nor any facilitation made for speedily accessing it. There are vulnerable sections of society like the elderly, children and people with language barrier who may not even be able to articulate their need of medical assistance. If I was denied medical aid on landing even after having explicitly requested for it, they do not stand a chance of getting the required medical aid.
I had to run pillar to post seeking medical aid at the huge Mumbai airport terminal while trying to keep calm and ensuring nothing further aggravates the blocking sensation in my throat due to the choke. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew then that a passenger in a more urgent situation than mine would not have survived. Should a passenger pass away in such an ordeal, the aftermath would be scattered news reports and an official statement from the airline absolving itself. Very sadly then, no one would ever come to know what the passenger went through. To pay for negligence with a life is too costly!
Anyone can choke, anyone can need medical aid. Negligence in such life threatening situation is unbecoming of a service provider like Jet Airways. The Jet Airways captain and the cabin crew along with the entire managing authority are responsible for such pathetic service standards and the deplorable negligence meted out to a passenger in need of medical aid. Nothing ever happens in isolation. What is allowed at Jet Airways is what has exactly happened that day and will continue to happen, if stringent corrective measures are not taken. How can such an airline with scant regard for the value of human life be ever authorised to operate in the aviation industry? Denial of medical aid as requested for is tantamount to violation of the absolute right to life.