A note to customers traveling with medical conditions

By Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy, Alaska Airlines

We wanted to reach out to you, our customers, to address a recent situation involving a customer whose travel was interrupted in Lihue, Hawaii.

Our Lihue employees responded to a customer who shared she was receiving medical treatment and was feeling weak. Out of concern for this customer’s safety, our employees made the decision to call MedLink, a service which provides on-call advice from trained medical professionals who specialize in air travel to assist employees in making decisions about a customer’s ability to safely travel. MedLink advised that our customer provide a doctor’s note stating she is clear to travel.

The personal safety of our customers is our first priority. In fact, before every Alaska Airlines flight departs, our employees are required to ask “Am I ready?” and “Is the flight safe?” We apply that standard at every airport we serve and on every flight. These kinds of decisions are never easy. Our agent was acting in the best interest of the customer in hopes of preventing an inflight medical emergency during the five-hour flight back to California.

As we have shared with our customer, we regret the inconvenience she experienced Monday. We have been in contact with her throughout this process, and have refunded her family’s airfare, as well as the cost of the extra night’s accommodations in Lihue. We booked her on another flight home the following day. We could have done some things differently and the things we have learned from this situation will influence how we approach similar situations in the future.

We’ve received several questions from customers about Alaska’s policies for people traveling while receiving medical treatment and wanted to take the opportunity to share some of those policies with you.

What is Alaska Airlines’ policy for customers who may be traveling while ill?

Customers who are ill are permitted to fly without a doctor’s note. In cases where we are unsure of a customer’s fitness to fly, we rely on the advice of the personnel at MedLink, whose team of trained medical professionals provide medical counsel to our employees.

Do we have a list of illnesses that would require a note?

Medical clearance (eg, a doctor’s note), is only required when a customer’s medical condition causes reasonable doubt that the customer can complete the flight safely, without requiring extraordinary medical assistance during the flight. That being said, if a customer indicates that he or she may have difficulty flying, it is our policy to follow the advice of MedLink’s trained medical professionals.

Are customers who wear a face mask permitted to fly without a doctor’s note?

Yes. In the rare event a customer indicates that he or she is not feeling well, or may have difficulty flying, it is our policy to follow the advice of our on-call MedLink medical professionals.

What advice do you have for people traveling with cancer or other diseases?

Anyone who is receiving medical treatment that might impact their ability to fly should check with their physician to determine if it is safe to fly.

All of us at Alaska Airlines are committed to ensuring customers with disabilities, including individuals receiving medical treatment, are assisted with great care and compassion.

We’re all connected to people, whether they are friends, family members or customers, who need a little extra care and compassion while traveling. Again, we’re very sorry for the impact to this customer.

~ Ray