When you hear the expression “aircraft parts,” you probably think about engines, tires, avionics, and the like. But for a year now, a new kind of part has been required equipment on all commercial aircraft: the automatic external defibrillator (AED). At American ­Airlines and American Eagle, AEDs are nothing new. In fact, our people have been using AEDs since 1997, when American became the first U.S. airline to install them. You have probably seen defibrillators in action a hundred times in movies or TV shows, treating patients whose hearts won’t beat correctly.

When a heart’s rhythm goes into an uncoordinated electrical activity called fibrillation, the heart twitches ineffectively and can’t pump blood. A defibrillator delivers an electric current through the chest wall to the heart, momentarily stunning it. While that may not sound therapeutic, it actually gives the heart an opportunity to resume beating effectively. Not very long ago, you could only find “defibs” in a hospital or other medical setting, but today, portable AEDs are deployed in malls, health clubs, offices, and of course, aboard aircraft.

It’s important to note that a shock is not always needed. AEDs have built-in microprocessors that assess the patient’s heart rhythm through adhesive electrodes to judge whether defibrillation is necessary. If the device determines a shock is appropriate, it administers the appropriate level of current through adhesive electrode pads. AEDs aren’t cheap. Each unit costs about $3,000. But they are very accurate and have become increasingly easy to use. AEDs use voice prompts, lights, and text messages to tell the rescuer what steps to take.

An AED is a great tool, but it doesn’t amount to much during an in-flight medical emergency without the skill, poise, and training of the flight attendants, our first responders. American Airlines and American Eagle flight attendants all go through rigorous and recurrent AED and CPR training. Since 1997, AEDs have been applied more than 1,300 times to American and Eagle passengers. In the majority of those cases, the AED indicated that a shock was not ­required. But in dozens of cases, our flight attendants have used AEDs to deliver lifesaving defibrillation. Our first “shock-and-save” took place in February 1998, on a flight between Dallas/Fort Worth and Mexico City. AA flight attendants administered CPR and one shock to an ailing passenger who, I am pleased to say, is still alive today.

Our commitment to safety is reflected in the thousands of routine tasks our people perform every day. But protecting our customers also means being ready for the unexpected. Experts say that during a sudden cardiac arrest, a victim’s chance of survival decreases by seven to 10 percent for each minute he or she goes without defibrillation. So quick thinking and appropriate action are paramount.

Of course, deploying AEDs effectively is just one of the many ways our flight attendants help keep us safe while we are airborne. I’m sure it won’t come as a shock (sorry) to learn that I am very proud of them, and I hope you will join me in thanking them for their service. I know I speak for them, and for everybody at our company, when I say thank you for flying with us today.
Picture of Gerard Arpey

Chairman & CEO
American Airlines