Who is MedLink and What Authority do They Have?

I just got an e-mail from a traveler who was denied boarding on a WestJet flight. The circumstances were a bit unclear to me, but her fitness to fly was called into question when she had trouble boarding (she stumbled and I think fell) and then spent some time in the lavatory. Somehow they got hold of her medication list, and she believes something on that sent up a red flag. Again, I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but apparently some of the meds she takes for pain relief are also anti-psychotics.

Anyway, when she emerged from the lavatory the flight attendant was talking on the phone to MedLink. And some time after that they determined that she could not fly until she had a doctor’s release.

So she wanted to know, “Who is MedLink and what authority do they have?” I figured others might have the same question, so I decided to answer it here.

In short, MedLink is a company which supplies in-flight medical assistance and pre-flight passenger assessment by phone. They are staffed by board certified physicians and other professionals, and many airlines use this service. They act as a consultant to the airline in medically related matters.

They are typically called when a passenger wants to fly with oxygen — for assessment and for making the oxygen arrangements. They are also called when there is an in-flight emergency. And if the gate agent or flight crew suspects an individual is too ill or infirmed to make the trip, they contact MedLink for an assessment.

The latter was the case in the above mentioned incident.

As to the authority MedLink has; well, as I said they work in an advisory capacity, and although they make a medical recommendation based on information supplied by the airline, the airline has the final authority to determine “fitness to fly”. And although they can’t deny passage solely because of a disability (say, just because you are in a wheelchair) they can if there a medically-supported concern that the flight will not be able to reach its destination without diverting to an alternate airport for a medical emergency.

For example, Med Link was also involved the decision to ground a man with terminal cancer who wanted one last visit with his family. Heartbreaking yes; but totally within the letter of the law. And again the company was just acting in an advisory capacity. The final decision (based on MedLink’s recommendation) was made by the airline.

So, if you ever hear that the airline is contacting MedLink regarding your fitness to fly, now you know who they are and what they do. And remember, in most circumstances this won’t be a problem; because as I said earlier, airlines can’t deny you passage SOLEY because of your disability.

As to the incident I mentioned in the beginning of this post “did WestJet act within the law in denying passage to this lady.” Quite frankly. I have no idea. Like I said, I really don’t have enough information to make that determination. And even if I did, I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV!!