southwest airlinesAfter a long, busy week on the road, all I wanted was to be home and relax with the family. Just ONE more flight to go and it left Dallas for Nashville on time. If you’ve flown Southwest before, you know to check in early for your boarding pass. Otherwise, you end up with the “C” boarding group (like me) and are guaranteed a seat wedged between two other passengers. The worst middle seat experience was a four hour flight from Denver to Nashville between two burley wrestlers last year—one had a serious allergy causing him to sneeze uncontrollably throughout our flight. (On the bright side, there was no additional service charge for the shower I received!)

Today’s flight was different. I plopped between a young music industry exec (translation: the quiet, creative type that listens to music the entire trip) and a Southwest Airlines tarmac employee returning home after a week-long training session in Dallas. The tarmac employee promptly introduced himself (Tre) and shared his favorite learnings from the training he just completed. We proceeded to chat about his mother’s favorite curry recipes, his love for cooking, and the perks of working for the airline.

Mid-flight, we received our complimentary drinks and peanuts—the traditional Southwest snack. Tre and I chose peanuts over pretzels—he tearing off the top and “chugging” them whilst I took a few at a time to make them last longer. Tre began making a muffled noise. He weaved up and back in his seat feverishly and his demeanor changed from a jovial seat mate to someone stricken with panic. It triggered a memory from an OSHA Training course attended last year–Stay calm. Act swiftly.

I made eye contact with Tre, “Are you choking and is it OK if I help you?” He nodded yes, so I pressed the flight attendant button and removed the hot coffees from our lap trays to the exec’s table top, then quickly folded up our trays so we could stand. “You need to stand up in the aisle now, it’s going to be OK,” I assured him while hoping to remember what came next…

The flight attendant recognized Tre as she responded immediately to the call button. By this time, I was behind him, and told the approaching attendant, “He’s choking on peanuts and needs help dislodging them. He has given permission for assistance.” She initiated three strong strikes against his back while his chest rested against a seatback. Tre was now pale and staggering. People in the seats around us were notably worried, and I was, too…

The attendant tried once more—the fourth hard blow dislodged the peanuts. Tre took several gasping breaths and we all sighed with relief. The flight attendant responded swiftly and calmly, clearly saving Tre from what could have been a more serious situation. While the safety training OSHA provided that Balfour Beatty Investments required may have been intended for use on construction sites, it also worked well for one man 30,000 feet above the ground.

As a refresher to readers, below are the steps recommended by the Red Cross for Choking:

  1. Have someone call 9-1-1.
  2. Obtain consent from the victim.
  3. Lean the person forward and give 5 back blows with the heel of your hand.
  4. Give 5 quick, upward abdominal thrusts.
  5. Continue alternating between back blows and abdominal thrusts until the object is dislodged.

Check out this safety poster for choking for more information.