I’ve never liked Seatac airport. I think the facility is substandard, managed poorly, and has horrible signage. But I witnessed something this morning for which I think the Port of Seattle, the airlines who operate there, and the TSA needs to take immediate remedial action.
As I was returning from dropping someone off, I saw a man collapse. Travelers who were closer to him than I was surrounded him. Someone tried to get the attention of an airline employee to call 911. Other travelers pulled out the cell phones and started calling 911. Someone placed a jacket under his head.
That appeared to be the extent of the first aid training in the circle of people around him.
“Is he okay?” someone asked. “I think so,” someone said.
A large crowd had gathered, and some of them started to disperse. No one from the airport, or any airline, or the TSA was near him though. Newly arriving travelers were trying to pass through the aisle he was blocking, creating congestion in the hallway. More of the crowd started to disperse.
Still, no one from TSA, the airlines, or the airport had come to his aid. Indeed, after making a perfunctory 911 call, the nearest airline employee returned to doing whatever it is they do so slowly at the ticket counters.
More of the crowd started to disperse. The travelers remaining near him are looking at each other helplessly. One woman gathered up his cell phone, which had fallen to the floor, and another had identified his luggage and moved it to the side. Five minutes pass, and three people remain by his side. Still, no airport personnel.
I watched from a distance during this time, waiting for someone with a badge and a gun, or a pair of wings and a blazer to take charge, and I realize that its just not going to happen. It seemed that the paramedics were on the way, and that was all the response from the airport that was to be had. I was as close as the personnel at the ticket counter, about 15 feet, and I really didn’t know if the man was conscious.
So I decided that I was going to do something. I’ve travelled through Seatac enough to know that they have AEDs at various locations, and I start looking around for the nearest one. I have no idea if the man is having a heart attack or not, but if he was, an AED might save his life.
Fortunately, the nearest AED was only about 50 feet away and I spotted it quickly. I walked over to it. The door had warnings that an alarm would sound, and I actually hesitated for a moment. But then I opened the door, and true to the warning a piercing alarm sounded. I closed the door, and the alarm went off.
An alarm sounded in Seatac and no one responded. The alarm stopped when the door was closed. What kind of alarm system is this? What kind of response is this?
I walked over to the man and knelt down beside him, and asked the others if he was having a heart attack. No one knew. He was breathing and conscious, but not entirely lucid. His voice was weak, and he said he was hot. I didn’t think he needed the AED, but I started trying to read the directions in case he was about to have a heart attack or lose consciousness.
I have a device in my hand, and I’m tall. That’s enough to make me an authority figure to one of the women who has been with him. She begins reciting the story to me, and telling me which luggage is his. “I’m not a paramedic,” I say.
Someone asked him if he was diabetic. “I’m hot,” he said.
A young blonde woman on his other side looked at me, and then looked at the airline employees behind the counter, doing whatever it is they do, apparently oblivious to all of this. She shrugs at me. I shrug at her. “Where’s TSA?” she mouths. I shrug again. “It’s Seatac,” I whisper, and she shakes her head knowingly.
Someone arrives with some juice. I don’t know if juice was a good idea or not, but they prop his head up and give him a little sip.
5 more minutes pass, and the man appears stable, whatever that means, but still not entirely lucid, and obviously weak. Still no airport personnel.
The ambulance pulls up out front and drives slowly along the curb looking for the right place. They drive past the closest door. I left the man, and rushed outside to flag the paramedics down. They’re walking the wrong way, so I have to chase after them a bit. “This way,” I shout. “Hey, this way.” One of them hears me, and the three paramedics turn around, and I lead them back to the man. They take charge quickly, and everyone is visibly relieved. One paramedic attends to the man, while another interviews the few of us around him. “Who’s who,” he says, and we realize consciously for the first time that the man was travelling alone.
I get up to leave, and I say something pointless to the paramedics like “you got him?” As if I ever “had him” and now I’m just passing him off to colleagues. That’s not true at all, of course, but they indulge me anyway and assure me that they “have him.”
The whole episode lasted maybe 15 minutes, and during that time not a single uniformed individual approached the man. No one arrived to simply take charge of the situation and relieve travelers of the burden of deciding to catch a flight or stay with a seriously ill human being. No one arrived to secure his luggage. As I write this, I realize that I have no idea what is going to happen with his luggage. Maybe the TSA will blow it up later, with film at 11. No one trained in first aid or basic life support showed up to assess the situation and take the proper steps, whatever they were. No one responded to the alarm from the AED. Except for me, no one even thought to get the AED. No one told the paramedics precisely where to go or cleared a path for them to arrive. No one arrived to give the man a modicum of dignity by preventing people from having to walk around him. No one offered a pillow or a blanket. No one fetched a first aid kit. No one paged the airport doctor.
The utter indifference to this man’s plight displayed by the airport personnel was truly disgusting.
I’m going to go renew my first aid training. I sure as hell hope that the Port of Seattle, the airlines, and the TSA review their procedures and training, because I’m absolutely certain that the standard response to a person collapsing suddenly is not to let him lie there.
I once was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing in Billings, Montana when a fellow passenger collapsed. The flight attendants reacted immediately and took charge of the situation until an ER doctor and an ObGyn who happened to be onboard began CPR. The pilot effectively dropped the plane out of the sky to land in Billings, where the plane was met by an ambulance.
It seems you are far better served to get suddenly ill onboard a plane at 37000 feet than you are at Seatac.