Sunday, 26 April 2015

Medical Emergency on Singapore Airline Suites: A True Story

Singapore Airlines Suites to Paris and a Medical Emergency

Singapore Airline Suites

"Terminal 3 please!"

These words glowed with an unmistakable tone of excitement as we made ourselves comfortable in the backseat of the taxi.

We were going to Paris for the first time and were flying in the famous Singapore Airlines Suites!

I was so ready to take pictures and post the review on my blog!

However, things took quite a turn later on during the flight...

The Singapore Airlines Suites was the first to have a bed for 2 on a flight, although Etihad has now The Residence to match and perhaps supersede in terms of the hard product.

The Suites are only available on the Airbus A380, and the longest routes are from Singapore to the USA via transit in Frankfurt or Tokyo. The shorter routes include flights to China (including Hong Kong which is the shortest of all), India and Japan. Considering the overwhelming feature is the real full flat bed and a good sleep, short flights seem to be a waste! One of my friends took the Singapore-Japan red-eye flight and only managed 4 hours of sleep even though he skipped breakfast.

The flight time from Singapore to Paris is about 14hrs non-stop which makes it one of the longest non-stop routes (for Singapore Airlines) whereas both routes to the US are split into 2 segments.

Given the rave reviews of the suites over the years, I have always wanted to experience the best seat by arguably the best airline in the world. I had booked my trip 6 months earlier for this vacation over the Easter weekend. The day had finally arrived after the months of waiting!

Our flight was originally scheduled to depart before midnight at the time of booking but was slightly postponed to fly after midnight subsequently.

As the taxi arrived at Changi Airport, it swiftly stopped at the first door for Singapore Airlines.

However, that is wrong as there is a separate driveway for First Class and Suites just before the first entrance! *facepalm*

Well, it is only a short walk so we hurriedly dragged our luggage past a crowd of smokers right outside the door (Singapore Law mandates 'no smoking' in air-conditioned spaces), towards the lights in the picture below.

As we approached the door, several members of the staff came over to help my friend with the luggage. In the meantime, they were also staring at yours truly taking pictures at the door. They must be thinking this person must be a "mountain turtle/tortoise" (colloquial for a country bumpkin).

Well, the Suites are indeed exclusive and most people would not have the chance for such an experience!

We were then escorted to an available counter (actually all the counters were empty, just staffed or not at that point in time).

I looked around while the lady at the counter checked us in.

The lounge seems a little clustered and the entire place was mainly yellow or gold, including the lighting which bathed the entire place in yellow as seen the above photos.

Gold is the colour scheme of the Suites tickets and the "Invitation" to the Private Room (yay!) was handed to us during the process.

We were the only people at first but a few other passengers came in during the process so I guess there are quite a number of people taking First Class and Suites...

At the other end of the lounge (behind the counter showed several photos before and towards the left), a short 10m walk separated us from a dedicated immigration counter.
I presumed there would be a carpeted walkway but there wasn't one. Well, that helped to keep the expectations slightly lower.

The immigration point leads into the common air-side area and we made our way to the SilverKris lounge nearby. No special treatment or buggy ride here.

On presenting our boarding passes and Private Room Invitation to the staff at the entrance, we were then escorted all the way in to the Private Room, which involved walking pass the Business Class and First Class lounge areas. For this lounge, it seems that Suites are separated from the First Class.

First Class Area
Private Room resting area

The Private Room had only 5 other passengers when we entered and is divided into a resting area and a dining area. The resting area looked pretty normal but what sets the Private Room apart from the rest is the dining area. Big and comfortable leather seats with tables in a restaurant-like environment and the polite staff really make this the best lounge experience ever!

Having read other reviews previously on the Private Room, both of us were ready to fill our (deliberately) empty stomachs which have been asking for dinner.

So, we started with champagne...

And then the appetizers. A friend of mine took a flight the week before and commented the Dim Sum was horrible.
I found it rather ok but he remarked that I was forgiving. Perhaps Perhaps...

Of course I had to have my favourite Satay!

And the main courses... Baked Snapper, Baked Lobster and Beef Burger with foie gras.
The food was a little on the dry side, especially the burger. No 'cooked to perfection' from me, but I do think it is good enough for a good meal and excellent for lounge food.

And there were second and third helpings... Especially the satay. Yum yum...

The menu was different from what my friend had as he was recommending which dishes to try and the staff informed us that the Private Room menu changes every Wednesday.

Last but definitely not least, we had ice-cream!
This is not listed on the menu but my friend knew we could order it. (And now you do too!)
Upon tasting, I believe it is from Haagen-Daz, but the presentation is so exquisite!

So, the stomachs were very happy with the intake and we settled down with some water. It had to be Evian... (Vive la France!)

After the feast, it was time to board with 5 minutes to spare. There was no quick exit from the Private Room to the gate so we walked back the way we entered.

The passengers have already started to board when we reached the gate and at the counter, we were informed that a couple would like to take the middle seats we booked. The way the request was conveyed to us was rather curt.

It was something along the lines of "Oh it's you! -Pause- The couple in front of you wants your seats!"....

I was taken aback for a moment when she shrieked! I thought we missed the flight, lost something, seats got cancelled or something.

My companion was pretty annoyed by the incident. The reason was that the centre blind was malfunctioning and the couple would like to take our seats. Perhaps the staff were too happy to see us as maybe the couple were very unhappy (and making a big fuss) that the blind was spoilt! #firstworldproblem perhaps?

We boarded the plane and were shown to our suites. The feeling was totally great (for me at least)! A very large space enough for 3 Economy seats and more! I took a picture of the seat across the aisle which is the one right at the start of this post. This next one shows the ottoman of the seat in front of the previous Suite. There is definitely ample room for 2 even in 1 Suite!

My friend was definitely all smiles in his seat. (And probably forgotten the incident just minutes ago)

A small card is usually placed on the side stating "This suite has been specially cleaned and dressed by -who-". In my case, it was Thila.

As soon as we were comfortably seated, the crew came by to apologize regarding the incident of the (proposed) seat change. In the end, the couple were seated across the aisle from each other.

After a welcome drink, the senior stewardess asked if I would like to change into the provided PJs before or after takeoff. I chose after while my companion chose before.

The PJs are from Givenchy and come in a variety of sizes. (Forgot to take a picture before I wore them)  A small closet is concealed between the suites, but I would prefer (for security) the access to open into the suite rather than into the aisle.

The inflight menu came in a heavy leather folder.
Many drinks were available, including champagne of course, and sometimes I wish I enjoy alcohol (I hardly drink!).

Some people must be thinking "What a waste!"

Pages and pages of the drinks available, but I would stick with my iced Milo.

The current amenity kit is by Ferragamo. There are male and female versions but I didn't get to see the female bag.

My first movie of this flight on the legendary SQ inflight entertainment was the last instalment of The Hobbit with the use of the BOSE headphones.

Other movies included Into the Woods, the latest Night at The Museum.

For the current list of new movies, one can always check .

The meal service soon started and I have to say it is of restaurant quality!

We started with caviar and lobster salad. The amount of caviar is generous and I really liked it.

This was followed by the clear chicken soup.

And then the main course. My steak was ordered via the "Book the Cook" service and it was rather well done but not well done. In other words, great for inflight food... (Interpretation needed)

The main courses on the flight doesn't sound too bad if I didn't "Book the Cook". So far, I have great confidence in the food Singapore Airlines offer inflight.

I rejected my dessert as I was really stuffed (from the Private Room), but my companion has a dessert stomach and probably a huge one (he had a serving of Vanilla ice-cream back at the airport).... I often wonder where the food he eats goes to.

After the meal service, I changed into my set of PJs and the crew prepared the 'double bed in the sky' before my eyes. The bed is actually stowed behind the seat and a series of knobs and levers allow the bed to flip down and the side counter to lower.

The final product is actually more like 2 single beds, but a luxury no matter what. I have absolutely no complaints with such a great way to fly.

My friend couldn't wait for me to take a picture first.

With that, I settled down to sleep...


(There are minimal pictures in this section as I respectfully did not take any photos of the patient)

While enjoying my marvelous bed onboard fast asleep, somehow an announcement calling for medical help in English woke me.

Was it a dream?

The French version swiftly followed and confirmed it was not my imagination.

This was the first time I have heard such an announcement and I left my Suite to take a look.

As I walked out, an elderly French gentleman was being carried to the galley for resuscitation.

He was unresponsive and his heart had stopped.

Why bring him to the cramped galley? Simply because it was still more spacious than the aisles in the cabin.

4 other people had responded to the call as well.

We started CPR immediately which was extremely difficult due to the limited space and an AED was available and brought to the patient.

A couple of shocks were given and all the medical supplies were brought over by the cabin crew for use.

The situation was absolutely chaotic as no one on the flight had any experience of dealing with such an emergency.

Looking for the medications and the syringes and needles in a situation which every second counts got more stressful every single moment. Especially if one doesn't know where all these are!
Improvising everything was the crux of the crisis.

What thoughts did I have at this point in time? None, except on what to do for the patient.

We did our best and even got ready to intubate the patient in a extremely unconducive position.

Miraculously, we managed to get the heart restarted and the patient started to breathe spontaneously.
With this, I was able to relax a little and got to interact with all the people helping the French gentleman as well as orientate myself to the flight situation.

Of the 4, 3 were doctors and 1 was a nurse. Of the doctors, 1 was French, 1 was Australian and the last was from Singapore like myself. The nurse was Singaporean too.

None of us were experts in emergency care unfortunately.

Looking around, I was rather amused and amazed by the use of a clothes hanger as a improvised drip stand. I think the French doctor thought of that, but I'm not sure.

At this point of time, we were flying over the Middle East and turning back to Singapore was not a feasible option.

Meanwhile, all of us (the medical personnel and the crew) tried to not alert the other passengers on the flight.

As the cabin crew looked after the patient who was still on the floor as we were mindful of moving him, the captain talked to us (the doctors) for an opinion on the option to divert.

Unanimously, we agreed the plane should be diverted as soon as possible.

The captain contacted several airports over the Middle East and considering the plane was an A380 and the medical services which were available on the ground, we were not able to land and had to continue to fly. He handled all the communication and did not reveal the details.

During this time, we tried to get more information from the gentleman's wife but she was very distraught and my mediocre French was absolutely that, mediocre.

Why didn't I do better at French? Well, too late for regrets.

The gentleman was simply found to be unresponsive in his seat by his wife apparently, without any physical complaints prior to that.

In the absence of investigative tools, we were unable to come to a definitive diagnosis of the gentleman's condition and to decide on any appropriate treatment.

Thankfully, as the gentleman was breathing spontaneously with a pulse and is somewhat stable, we had time to ponder over the next course of action while still headed towards Paris.

After an hour of relative stability, we moved him to an empty Suite and nursed him there. Coincidentally, that one is just across the aisle from mine and the one pictured right at the beginning of this post.

What an unfortunate coincidence!

Taking the Suites is great but not in this way... (Trying to lighten the mood)

The gentleman remained unconscious and we took turns to watch after him.

Taking a break from providing medical care...

By this time, we were ready for breakfast and were served in 1 of the suites by the side.
The table was big enough to serve both sets of breakfast and we could sit together with one sitting on the ottoman.

We started with some fruit and I was finally able to calm myself for some food.

My friend had ordered the Japanese breakfast while I had the eggs and some cornflakes with milk. However, he didn't like it at all and asked for a change. The fishy smell of the Shishamo was too strong and got to him.

Thankfully, there was another set of breakfast for him.

I always liked the bread basket for SQ flights and the range is definitely better than the other airlines I have experienced so far.

By the time breakfast was over, my bed was already stowed and behind the seat once more.

Oh well.

After a good breakfast, I went to take a look at the French gentleman again.

Medical Diversion finalized

At this point of the flight, we were still heading towards Paris with no concrete plans for diversion.

The gentleman's wife had told us she was very keen to land in Paris through one of the air stewardess who was of mixed parentage. That would be more feasible if the elderly gentleman was conscious, but he was in need of more advanced medical care as soon as possible.

Further consultation with the ground finally gave an option to divert to Munich which was 1 hour away from Paris.

1 hour.

Would landing in Paris be a better option after all?

All of us (doctors, nurse and the captain) gathered around the patient and made a final decision.

Landing in Munich and giving the patient an extra hour for emergency medical care may make a difference eventually.

Everyone returned to their seats for the landing and I took the responsibility of observing him across the aisle. Landing was perfect and about 12 paramedics boarded the plane as soon as the situation was safe.

I took a look outside and saw that we were actually away from the gates and in the middle of the tarmac.

The paramedics used raising platforms to reach the doors and that was also how the patient was transferred to the ground from the aircraft.

I have to say the German paramedics were very well-trained and efficient. This gave us reassurance the patient would be well taken care of in Munich.

With that, all of us were finally able to relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

From there, we rested for an additional hour for refuel and equipment checks.

Taking off from Munich!

Finally, we took off uneventfully and landed in Paris about 3 hours behind schedule.

Priority clearance at Paris was still very slow unfortunately

Thoughts on the incident

This is probably one of the fears of medical doctors while flying.

A unfamiliar and inappropriate environment.
Not knowing what medical equipment is at hand.
Not having familiar faces by your side.
Not possessing an easy access for additional help if needed.

I have a classmate who once remarked he did not put 'Dr' on his ticket as to avoid being called for medical assistance on a flight when asked why, and one of the other doctors say he was previously told a joke that doctors would get drunk onboard so that they would not be safe to help.

Hopefully, most doctors would heed their calling and help despite chances of litigation.

This was one of the points my cousin from Hong Kong asked when he heard my story.

Would doctors be sued for providing help if the end-result is undesirable?

Points to ponder indeed...

Wonderful is that a group of strangers were able to come together and offer assistance to someone in need.

In addition, the language barrier reminded myself of the importance of communication and there were times during the incident that I faulted myself for not doing well in French.

As I stepped out of the plane and into the airport, a wave of calmness and joy washed over me.

While it is my dream to visit Paris...
While it is great to take Suites on Singapore airlines....

It is AWESOME going on a vacation and helping to save someone's life along the way!

Early morning view from Westin Paris, which had bad service and follow-up unfortunately!

Last but definitely not least!...

Thank you to all the crew on SQ 336 and the medical colleagues onboard ( Dr Shaza and Dr Zheng Yuan, Nurse Samantha and the unnamed French doctor) for working together and helping the patient! Hopefully we made a big difference!

At the point of writing this post, no updates from SQ or anyone else were available.
I was asked for my email and phone number by the crew prior to arrival in Paris but no further information were received.

Happy and healthy travels to all,


Updated May 2015

Singapore Airlines responded to my email and sent the following good news!

Hi Frederick,

Once again, thank you for assisting this patient. We understand that from our colleagues in France that the passenger has made sufficient recovery for his family to take him back to France. However, unfortunately we do not have any other detailed information regarding his health or medical condition.

Yours Sincerely,
SQ Social Department
Singapore Airlines Limited 

Once again, I am thankful that the help we, as a group of strangers, rendered made a difference to this gentleman.

My classmate and friend (Dr Winston Lee, who runs an aesthetic practice) still maintains he would not help. Since providing medical assistance (or not) is a personal choice, he has every right to refuse.

Ethically, I definitely do not agree with him.

Join the discussion at my Facebook post!

Oh well, guess I will leave it as that....


Dr Frederick Ee  余泛捷 医生
Medical Doctor, Author and Hotel Blogger
Facebook Page of Transform

No comments:

Post a Comment