Southwest confirmed on Friday that it was in the process of significantly enhancing its onboard medical kits with a host of new lifesaving drugs and diagnostic equipment, including Naloxone, the wonder drug that can quickly reverse the deadly side effects of an opioid overdose.
In addition to Naloxone, which is also commonly referred to as Narcan, Southwest will also begin stocking epinephrine auto-injectors, which can be used by non-medically trained laypeople to treat life-threatening allergic reactions when someone has gone into anaphylactic shock.
Southwest is also investing in electronic blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and glucometers, as well as stethoscopes that are designed to be used in loud environments, like the cabin of a Boeing 737.
The significant investment addresses all of the concerns raised by passengers, medical personnel and a host of U.S. Senators who have called on airlines, including Southwest, to improve their medical kits.
Last December, three Senators wrote to FAA administrator Michael Whitaker urging the agency to force airlines to carry epinephrine autoinjectors (commonly but not always sold under the EpiPen brand) because they claimed only ‘good fortune’ had so prevented passengers from dying from a mid-flight anaphylactic shock.
At present, the FAA only requires airlines to carry single-dose vials of Epinephrine, which must be administered via syringe only by trained medical professionals.
In April 2023, Lindsey Ulin, a resident physician in the Department of Internal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, implored Southwest to start carrying epinephrine autoinjectors after she suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction on one of its flights.
Thankfully for Lindsey, another physician happened to be on the flight.
Last year, the FAA rejected a petition to require airlines to carry basic diagnostic equipment such as pulse oximeters and glucometers because it wasn’t a “priority” for the agency.
The opioid epidemic that continues to grip the United States means that an increasing number of airlines have started to voluntarily carry Naloxone, which often comes in a nasal spray form.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Narcan can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and even restore breathing in just a couple of minutes. Several doses of Narcan are, however, usually required for powerful opioids like Fentanyl.
Delta Air Lines was one of the first carriers to start carrying Narcan after a young man died of a drug overdose aboard a cross-country Delta Air Lines flight from Boston to Los Angeles, despite desperate attempts from flight attendants and passengers to save the victim’s life.
Other airlines already voluntarily carrying Narcan include Alaska and American Airlines.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines told us: “With Customer Safety and comfort at front of mind, Southwest is enhancing its onboard emergency medical kits above and beyond current FAA requirements.”
“The new kits, which are being installed throughout our fleet over the course of 2024, feature an auto-injector dosage of epinephrine, as well as doses of naloxone (Narcan) nasal spray and ondansetron (Zofran) tablets.”
The rollout will continue throughout 2024.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.