Air Ambulance services Explained: How to organize the perfect Medevac mission for your loved ones

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What are air ambulance services? 

The number of people opting for air ambulance services has grown exponentially in these recent years. What type of service is this? As the name suggests, it allows you to fly in an ambulance. How to proceed if you need to travel on such a plane? Learn everything in this guide. 

1.1 What exactly is an air ambulance?

In simple terms, an air ambulance is an aircraft that flies patients from one location to another. Its purpose might be similar to that of a ground ambulance, except that the distance covered is exponentially more. Like ground ambulances, it ensures the safe transport of patients.

To be more precise, it allows those really sick, those in need of constant medical supervision and those who cannot travel on their own, to fly long distances, even across different countries. On the outside, it would look the same as any other aircraft. However, in some cases, there are markings showcasing that this plane is used for medical purposes. Moreover, as soon as you get into one, you will notice some similarities with ground ambulances. Like the latter, the aircraft is fitted with all the medical equipment necessary to transport even those needing ICU care

To sum it up, an air ambulance is a plane that is fitted with medical equipment designed to transport patients from one location to another. 

air ambulance

 1.2 How did air ambulances evolve: a brief history

1784… that was the year marking the birth of air transport. At the time, injured soldiers were taken to a medical facility in hot air balloons. In fact, the term ‘air ambulance’ did not even exist back then.

The first written record of the term ‘air ambulance’ was in 1866. Jules Verne used it in his novel ‘Robur le Conquérant’ (Robur the Conqueror) while describing how shipwrecked sailors were rescued by an airship named the Albatross. 

A few years later, in 1870, we witnessed the first documented use of an “air ambulance”. It was during the Franco-Prussian war: a hot air balloon was used to transport 160 soldiers from the besieged city to the hospital. 

During the first World War, in 1914, the military leveraged the power of aircraft to accelerate communication across military bases, as a surveillance tool and for several other missions. Considering the huge number of soldier deaths, the US and various military organizations started experimenting with the use of airplanes as air ambulances. 

The 1920s saw developments in airlines and airports across the globe and by World War II, the military had dedicated aircraft and helicopters serving as air ambulances to evacuate soldiers. 

Even if it was uncommon and quite inaccessible years back, there was an air medical transport system for civilians even in the 90s. For example, Australia had ‘The Royal Flying Doctor Service’. In Switzerland, air ambulances were used for winter sporting accidents and Los Angeles established its first service dedicated to civilians in 1947. 

Fast forward to the 21st century and things have evolved so much that air ambulances can be accessed by everyone, wherever they are across the globe. Today, we even have the term ‘medical tourism’, which describes a person traveling to another country to obtain medical care. It could be to obtain higher quality medical care, because treatment for a specific surgery is not available in their home country, to benefit from the expertise of a particular medical specialist or for so many other reasons. 

1.2.1 What about the equipment in air ambulances? 

Back in the days, air ambulances came in the form of hot air balloons and ‘primitive biplanes’. The equipment used was nothing like what we have in this age. During World War I, medical teams used electric, steam and gasoline-powered carriages to transport injured soldiers. In 1903, the Wright Brothers invented the first airplane, but it still had limited capabilities. For instance, during WWI the US wanted to transport more soldiers via aircraft, but they could not fit a stretcher inside one. 

Today, not only a stretcher but all the equipment used inside an ICU can fit into an air ambulance. In fact, Medical Air Service, a leading air ambulance service provider, has within its reach air ambulances with the latest state-of-the-art medical equipment, that equals to appliances found in an Intensive Care Unit. This means that even the most critically ill patients can be flown safely. Air ambulances have evolved to such an extent that you can travel in seemingly a smaller version of your ‘hospital room’. 

patient in air ambulance

1.3 The different types of air ambulance services available 

With an air ambulance being a plane that is equipped with medical equipment, you might think that this is your only option if you are sick and you need to travel. However, that is not the case. In fact, Medical Air Service, being an experienced air ambulance service provider, offers a wide range of services to suit your requirements, whether it is medically or financially. They are:

Medical Escort

This service is for patients who are not seriously ill and are mobile but need some additional support, especially for tasks that can be as tedious as traveling. It can be someone weaker than a healthy person, someone recovering from surgery or someone with very mild dementia. These are cases whereby patients can travel but not on their own. They would need medical escorts in case friends or family are indisposed to travel with them or they want someone with knowledge and experience in delivering medical care or first-aid in case a complication occurs mid-flight. 

As such Medical Air Service offers the option to be accompanied by a medical escort. This will be a specialized physician or a paramedic who will stay with the passenger at all times and provide treatment if needed during the flight. Moreover, psychological support will also be offered. The flight will be conducted in either business class or economy class. 

To ensure a first-class service, Medical Air Service places significant importance on the qualifications, background and experience of the accompanying medical professional. It also ensures that both the patient and the medic can get along well, so that neither of them are uncomfortable on the flight.

Important Note: These flights are only suitable for patients whose medical health is quite stable and in cases which are not time-sensitive, since the departure date depends on the airline’s schedule or flight availability. 

Stretchers and PTC on commercial flights

This type of air ambulance service is for patients who are not in a serious condition, who are not in a time-sensitive situation, but they cannot sit upright for a long amount of time. Why is that so? Because like with medical escorts, you have to wait for flight availability from a commercial airline to make a booking. The main benefit of this type of ambulance flight is that it is more cost-effective. This is because you are not booking a private jet all to yourself; instead you are sharing the costs with other passengers. There are two options available for this type of flight. Stretchers or Patient Transport Compartment. 

  • Stretchers: This involves removing a row of seats on the plane to fit in a stretcher, on which the patient will lie down during the flight. Consequently, you will be in the same cabin as others. However, you will be shielded by a screen. Medical Air Service will appoint a doctor/paramedic to accompany the patient throughout the trip. It is the most apt option if you have suffered from an injury that is not life-threatening but that requires maximum rest possible. 
  • Patient Transport Compartments: This option caters to patients who need constant medical supervision and who are traveling long-haul. A PTC, which will be fitted in the plane, contains all the medical equipment needed to care for patients. In this case as well, there will be a medical professional alongside.

Important notice: While commercial flights are the cheapest out of air ambulance solutions, they are not the most viable options. First of all, the approval to fly is dependent on the airline, which has the final say in the matter. The latter may take a few days to make its decisions and it may decide not to go forward with the flight at all. This is often the case when PTCs are involved. Additionally, setting up PTCs in commercial flights is a very rare occurrence since the device in itself is not easily accessible. As such, very few patient transports are conducted in PTCs. 

Air Ambulance Helicopters

Traditionally seen as emergency vehicles in cases of accidents, extractions and the likes, ambulance helicopters are in fact now used for various purposes. Basically, they engage in the transportation of patients from one location to another. 

Helicopters are distinguished by their ability to touch down on almost all relatively flat surfaces, in accordance with FAA restrictions. Not requiring a designated airstrip, they can pick you up from, or allow you to land almost anywhere, which is closer to where you are or where you need to go while eliminating the need for ground transportation. 

Air ambulance helicopters are fitted with all the necessary medical equipment to care for even the most seriously ill patients. Moreover, they can move faster than ground ambulances, which makes them a convenient transportation option if you need to get to a hospital quickly

Important notice: Ambulance helicopters cannot travel long distances without fuel stops. In consequence, they can transport patients across short distances only. This would involve domestic transfers (such as from one hospital to another in the same country) or transports in the border area between two countries. 

Private air ambulance planes

Chartered aircraft fitted with medical equipment to transport patients; this is the simplest definition for private air ambulance jets. They are aircraft that are designated to transport patients from one location to another, even over long-distances. 

These ambulance jets are the most beneficial to patients in terms of care offered in comparison to other air ambulance options. This is because they are fitted with medical equipment that is equal to that in an ICU and they can sustain patients over longer journeys, ensuring they are stable medically, regardless of where they need to go. The safety of patients is also ensured by a doctor and a paramedic who will constantly be available to provide care. 

Some companies like Medical Air Service can also arrange for additional medical equipment, depending on the patient’s needs to fit into the air ambulance. Additionally, this transportation method allows loved ones to accompany the patient on the trip to provide moral support. In many cases, ambulance jets are the only option for a smooth medical evacuation mission. 

Personal factors to be taken into consideration when choosing an air ambulance service

Considering that you have several air ambulance services available, choosing the right one, or the right air ambulance provider, might seem to be a difficult task. To ensure that the journey is a smooth one, that your loved one does not experience difficulties and that the Medevac mission is carried out perfectly, you must first identify your needs. Determine what is required so that you can choose a company that fits all the criteria. Below are some personal factors that must be taken into consideration when planning your air ambulance trip. 

    2.1 What are your medical requirements?

The most important factor is determining your medical requirements and the basis for this will be the health of the patient. The medical condition of your loved one will help you choose between traveling either via a commercial flight or an air ambulance. For instance, if the patient is in a stable enough condition to endure the troubles of flying commercially, then you can opt for a medical escort or even choose to install a stretcher in the cabin. Nonetheless, those needing constant medical supervision, either with a serious medical condition or needing medical equipment at all times to keep them stable, would require an air ambulance since a commercial flight would not be able to cater to these medical requirements. 

  2.2 How fast do you need an air ambulance?

The urgency of the request will help you choose easily between a scheduled flight or a chartered one. The issue with commercial airliners is that you have to wait for a flight to be available, which sometimes is not possible if you need to urgently travel to a hospital or to another location to get treatment. Time-sensitive cases, such as heart diseases, advanced-stage cancer or even Covid-19, require treatment or intervention by specialists within the least amount of time possible. Usually, booking a private plane means that it is dedicated to you, thus, can be made available whenever is appropriate for you

2.3 Where do you need to go? 

What is your destination? Do you need to go to a hospital in the same country? If that is the case, in most cases the trip can be made in either a ground ambulance or an ambulance helicopter. Opting for the former means that the trip will take longer and might be more strainful. A helicopter can also be used if you just need to go across borders. Longer distances would mean that you need an ambulance jet. 

2.4 Is the patient travelling alone?

This might seem insignificant, but it will determine the type of air ambulance aircraft used. If the patient needs several loved ones to travel alongside him, then you would require a bigger aircraft for the trip. Consequently, travelling alone implies a smaller plane, which would also reduce the cost of the air ambulance. 

2.5 Do you need transport to the hospital?

Travelling via an air ambulance means that you need to get to the airport or to the closest designated airstrip. While you can undertake this trip in your own vehicle, some cases require a ground ambulance for the trip to and from the hospital in both the host and destination country. In contrast to air jets, helicopters can land closer to the hospital, even on its roof sometimes.

ground ambulance

10 tips to choose the right air ambulance company

 After establishing all the needs specific to your case, it will be easier to organize the perfect Medevac mission. Now, you just have to choose the right air ambulance provider. The company that ticks off all of the factors in the following list would be ideal to transport your loved one. 

3.1 Can it cater to your medical needs?

You have already determined your medical needs and what is needed to ensure the safety of the patient. For instance, you know that medical equipment must be on hand to ensure the patient’s safety. Thus, you must choose a company having aircraft that can accommodate these devices and more, if need be. Let’s take the example of Medical Air Service. Its ambulance jets and helicopters are equipped with devices that are equal to that in an ICU. Moreover, it can even source additional ones to transport even the most seriously ill patients or even babies requiring a pediatric incubator. 

3.2 How fast can it provide you with a plane?

The best air ambulance company must be able to provide you with a plane as soon as possible. Waiting for weeks for a private jet beats the purpose of chartering one and a company that puts you on hold and that does not reply promptly to your requests is not worth going forward with. As it is, you are already stressed and in a difficult position and waiting can add to that stress. Most importantly, the patient’s health can deteriorate if the appropriate medical treatment is not administered on time. Being aware of the importance of time in such cases, Medical Air Service makes sure that the right transportation method is made available to you within the least amount of time possible for a swift medical evacuation or repatriation. This is usually on the same or following day after the booking has been made. 

3.3 Does it have several types of air ambulances at your disposal to take you wherever you want to?

A dependable air ambulance company must have several types of air ambulances at your disposal. For instance, you might choose to travel via a helicopter or a small aircraft and later on wish to switch to a bigger one based on your needs. The right provider must have several aircraft for you to choose from. Moreover, they should be able to fly to the destination that you need to go to or that you need to come from, wherever that is across the globe. To ensure that you can get to your destination of choice safely and within time, Medical Air Service is a company that operates globally and has various types of aircraft which are fitted with the latest medical equipment. The jets can fly to or from the most remote locations in the world, even in places where commercial flights cannot land. 

3.4 Does it allow you to accompany the patient? 

A considerate air ambulance provider must listen to your wishes and try to accommodate them as far as possible. For instance, if patients want one or more loved ones to accompany them, this should not be a problem. Usually, if the company has several types of aircraft, it would just need to disengage the type of aircraft that would accommodate all the passengers that wish to travel onboard the jet. Mindful of your needs and state-of-mind, Medical Air Service allows you to have one accompanying loved one for free, on the condition that this would not imply additional risks for both the patient and the loved one. It is aware of the importance of moral support for the patient and the need to be present for your loved ones. Moreover, if you wish to, it has bigger air ambulances or even private jets that permits more people to fly onboard. 

3.5 How is the air ambulance provider dealing with the coronavirus pandemic? 

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel sector cannot be ignored. The hold of this virus on airline companies is unprecedented and firms have to come up with new regulations to ensure safe travels while preventing the spread of the virus as far as possible. Patients have to be even more careful since they are more vulnerable to catching germs and other infections. That is why you must look for a company that has efficient ways of dealing with the pandemic. Air ambulances must leverage the latest tech and protective devices to ensure the protection of everyone involved. Efficiency, good planning and thorough organization is key to ensuring protection against Covid-19. These are what demarcate the air ambulance trips organized by Medical Air Service. 

The air ambulance company has clear policies to deal with the coronavirus and it can even transport patients who have tested positive for Covid-19. Asymptomatic ones can travel on their own in a private jet to prevent contamination and those having symptoms and needing medical attention can fly in a special isolation unit. They will be supervised by a medical professional at all times. 

3.6 Does it provide ground ambulance services?

If you are traveling to or from a foreign country, you might not be well-acquainted with its infrastructure or transport system. An efficient air ambulance provider must be able to offer you the complete package, including ground transportation in both countries, so that you do not experience any trouble. The benefit of Medical Air Service is that it offers ground transportation, if you need it, for all your air ambulance trips. Most of the time, patients have to travel via a ground ambulance since they need constant medical care. However, a private car can be arranged for accompanying persons or those who do not need an ambulance.

3.7 What is the level of medical attention provided? 

This is one of the most important factors to consider when you are organizing a medical evacuation mission. Traveling can be tedious and dangerous for someone having serious medical conditions and you must ensure that the trip can be done in complete safety. This will depend on the level of medical attention provided. A reliable air ambulance company like Medical Air Service will ensure that the patient traveling is given the maximum level of care throughout the flight. All of the flights organized by the firm involve experienced medical professionals onboard the plane. The patient will be accompanied by a doctor and a paramedic who have been especially trained in providing care during a flight. They will constantly supervise the sick traveler, provide care and intervene in case a complication occurs. 

3.8 Is the company transparent when it comes to charges? 

Hidden fees, outstanding balances after the flight, bills coming in 2-3 months after the air ambulance trip… All of this can be a nightmare! In fact, it points out that the company is unprofessional and unprincipled. To avert such distress, choose to book your air ambulance with a company that is upfront about the costs of the flight. When dealing with Medical Air Service, you will already be informed of the approximate costs of the air ambulance flight in the initial conversations. The company calculates the costs of the air ambulance according to your situation and needs and going forward you will receive a final quotation by mail.

3.9 Did previous customers have a good experience? 

Nothing can attest to the credibility of a company like testimonials from previous customers. Details about the flight from real people who have traveled with the company, accounts of their experience, and their reassurances about the firm’s level of professionalism and efficiency are a guarantee of its reliability. If the firm is genuine, you will easily find these reviews online. For instance, Medical Air Service has accounts of its flight and testimonials so that you know what to expect when booking a flight from the company.  


3.10 Is the firm a credible and experienced one?  

Finally, you must check the level of experience and credibility of the air ambulance provider. Does it have the appropriate accreditations? Does it follow the necessary regulations? Does it have enough experience conducting air ambulance flights? Once you answer yes to these questions, you can move forward. When it comes to Medical Air Service, it follows the most rigorous safety standards and has numerous accreditations from regulatory institutions. For instance, their quality management is certified by TÜV SÜD according to the DIN ISO 9001 standards and it is a partner of the Flight Safety Foundation. Moreover, established in 2009, the firm conducts hundreds of air ambulance flights every year. As such, it has more than enough experience to conduct a flight safely. 

How to proceed after choosing the right air ambulance company?  

Since Medical Air Service fits all the criteria mentioned previously, it can help you to organize the perfect Medevac mission for you or your loved one. What to do if you wish to book an air ambulance with us?

  1. Get in touch with us: Our agents are available every day and any time of the day. You can either call us or write to us via our contact form or by email and we will get back to you in a timely manner. During the first conversation, our expert will listen to you, assess your situation and advise you on the best way forward or the type of air ambulance to be used. You will also receive a quotation for the flight. It should be noted that the initial conversation is completely free-of-charge and non-binding

  2. Have your important documentation ready: Moving forward, we will need some important documentation to be able to organise the flight. These would be your passport, visa and a medical report stating that the patient is fit-to-fly. We can also determine the patient’s ability to travel by assessing his existing medical documentation. If the paperwork is easily available, the departure date can be scheduled more quickly. Moreover, our aviation consultants are always available during the planning process if you need assistance or more clarifications when dealing with the organizational tasks.

  3. After you have made all the documentation available and the payment has been processed, you just need to wait for your flight. From our end, we will organize everything and send you all the details. If you have opted for our ground ambulance service, we will pick you up on the departure date and ensure that you reach your destination safely. 

What do our previous customers say about us? 

Have a look at some of the testimonials from our previous customers: 

“I would like to thank you formally for your professionalism in managing the trip, but more than that, to recognize your kindness and compassion, which helped to make the trip bearable for us”

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are that you were on call with us for 48 hours and so generously offering alternatives. I am especially grateful to you for having answered all of my questions and explaining everything so calmly and clearly. So many thanks!”

“It is so good to know that somewhere else is somebody who loves their job and helping people. You are the most perfect service company I've ever know”. 

Contact us to organize the perfect Medevac mission for you

If you or your loved ones are sick and you need to plan a medical evacuation mission, get in touch with us. Our agents, speaking almost all major languages, are available round-the-clock, 7 days a week to help you out and offer a free non-binding quotation on our services.

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