Domhnall MacAuley on personal, primary and continuing care … airline style

Domhnall Macauley When the captain said we were 29th in the queue for take off there was a collective sigh. Friday evening, Newark airport, and everyone keen to get back to Europe. It would be 90 minutes between push off from the gate and take off. But, he apologised, explained the situation and, told us he would update us later. And, he did, letting us know as we progressed up the queue. Eventually we were airborne and enjoyed stunning night time views of the New York skyline before disappearing into the night. And, on reaching our cruising height, the captain once again apologised. With the benefit of a tail wind, we would not be too late in our arrival.

A few weeks earlier in Melbourne, as we sat in the departure lounge, the announcements didn’t sound good. There was a problem with the wing flaps but the engineer was working on it. The delays got longer. Looking out the terminal window, close to 8pm, the engineer climbed down with a resigned look and the captain left the flight deck. And, as expected, 30 minutes later, there was an announcement that the flight was cancelled and we would be put up overnight.

There was a scrum around the desk, the staff couldn’t cope and got ratty with passengers who were already a little frayed. Raised voices and temper tantrums. The captain appeared. He told us it was better to sort these problems out on the ground, that the defective part would be there in the morning, and the staff were doing their best to sort out transport and accommodation. And, could he answer any questions. Some he could and some he couldn’t, but that was OK.

Everyone looked the better of their nights sleep as we boarded the next morning. And, as we sat waiting for take off, the same captain came on the air, welcoming us aboard, apologising for the problems, hoping we had a pleasant night and reassuring us that all the onward connections had been rearranged.

Two pleasant, reassuring voices, they could see our problems and were keen to take off but constrained by circumstances and safety. The passengers were delayed, missing connections, family events, funerals, meetings and work commitments but the captain recognised how each of us individually had been inconvenienced and, we appreciated him for his consideration and letting us know what was happening. Someone in authority seemed to care.

Personal, primary and continuing care.

Domhnall MacAuley is Primary Care Editor, BMJ