Category Archives: How To

How-to information for people needing medical transportation

First Flight on a Small Plane – From a Teen’s Perspective

Angel Flight West flies patients of all ages to medical treatment. This week, we are going to focus on what it is like for a teenage patient flying to treatment with volunteer pilots. In 2013, Angel Flight West pilots flew a total of 485 flights for 172 passengers age 12-18.  Some of these teens were flying for the first time with AFW and some were longtime passengers continuing their treatment.

Kody took his first flight with Angel Flight West on January 16, 2014 from Nevada to California. Kody is a 16-year-old boy with Stage IV Melanoma. After taking time off from work to care for him, Kody’s parents were not in the financial position to afford travel to a very important clinical trial consultation appointment at UC San Francisco Medical Center.  Kody and his family turned to Leslie, Director of Programs and Services at Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation, for help and were able to set up a mission request with Angel Flight West. We caught up with Kody to find out more about his first experience as an AFW passenger.

Kody and Carmen before their first Angel Flight.
Passenger Kody and his mom Carmen before their first Angel Flight.

Before traveling with AFW volunteer pilots, Kody expected a fast, comfortable flight – a much easier alternative to a long drive from Northern Nevada to San Francisco. He explained that “it meant a lot as it cut a 16 hour round trip into about 4 hours… it was great for my parents because they didn’t have to take extra days off work.” Flying with Angel Flight West really eases the burden for passengers like Kody who may not be able to make a long trip by car. For Kody, traveling long distance meant he “got to fly in four different planes and see places [he] normally drives by look so different from the air.”

Flying in a small aircraft with a volunteer pilot donating their time, money, and aircraft to help those in need can also be a fun experience for passengers. Kody reported that “it was really cool to fly for the first time. I got to fly some of the planes. The pilots explained all of the different controls.” Flying in a small aircraft really gives a passenger the opportunity to see what goes on in-flight. AFW passengers are able to hear the pilot communicating with air traffic control, witness the use of different controls on the dashboard, and sometimes fly a plane for the first time as a “co-pilot” like Kody did!

Angel Flight West volunteer pilots provide non-emergency air travel for passengers of all ages – ranging from infants to teens, like Kody, to adults. The flights donated by AFW pilots enable patients to receive vital treatment that might otherwise be inaccessible because of financial, medical or geographic limitations. If you know someone in need of charitable travel for healthcare, please have them visit to request a flight.


Preparing Your Family to Fly: Practical tips to get ready for a medical flight

You likely know by now that flying in a 4 to 6 seat aircraft is different than flying commercially. So what can you do to prepare yourself, and your kids, for a private flight to medical treatment or wherever you need our volunteer pilots to take you?

There are a few simple things you can do to keep yourself and your children safe and comfortable on the flight.

Child on Small Plane

Hearing protection: Earplugs or a protective headset are necessary on a private plane to protect your hearing. Even on a commercial flight, you may want to use earplugs to reduce noise, and on a private flight they are essential. Please consult with your pilot, they will likely have extra pairs of headsets. If not, you can buy commercial earplugs at the drugstore. Keep in mind the flight headsets we wear for hearing protection and communication are different from the headphones you would use to listen to music. Regular earphones will not protect against hearing loss. If you are using earplugs for a baby or toddler, it’s a good idea to cover them with a hat or earmuffs, to keep your child from removing them during flight. Of course, please check with your doctor about recommended ear plugs for yourself and your child, and ask if there are any precautions you should take due to a medical condition.

Seatbelts and car seats: All of our Angel Flight West pilots use aircraft that have the appropriate FAA certified seatbelts for adults. If you are flying with a baby or toddler, his or her own car seat is the best option for the flight. If you can secure the car seat in a front facing seat, that may help minimize motion sickness, and will also allow them to enjoy the flight more. Speak with your volunteer pilot or Mission Coordinator if you have any questions or concerns about fitting your car seat into the plane.

Comfort: It gets chilly up in the air, and the rear seat of a private plane is usually a few degrees cooler than the front. Wear layers, and a blanket or sleeping bag is a nice way to make sure everyone can stay warm and cozy.

Air pressure: You will probably feel pressure building in your ears upon takeoff and landing. Swallow, yawn or chew gum to alleviate the pressure, or make your ears “pop”. For babies and toddlers, you can give them a bottle or pacifier to suck during takeoff and landing, which will equalize the pressure in their ears.

These simple additions to your flight checklist will make for a more comfortable and safe experience as you soar with Angel Flight West to better health. Also please keep in mind that private planes are more like traveling in car – there are no bathrooms or catering service on board. For a more complete description of what it’s like to travel on a private plane click here.

For a look at what it would be like to fly with Angel Flight West, check out this short video.

How to Choose the Best Medical Treatment Outside your Hometown

If you have cancer or another serious medical condition, you want to have the best possible treatment.  But what do you do if you’re in a small town without specialized care or treatment options? What if you need a second opinion for a medical diagnosis?

The decision to get medical treatment away from your hometown is an important one. Here are a few suggestions to help you make the best decision about treatment:

Review all your options with your doctor.  It may be that the best treatment for you is further than you can comfortably drive, but Angel Flight West can help with no cost flights to medical treatment or other pressing need, so don’t let distance stop you from making the best choice for you and your family.  If you don’t live in one of the 13 Western states Angel Flight West serves, you may be helped by one of our sister organizations.

Take your doctor’s suggestions and ask others about their experiences.  If your doctor can’t connect you to other patients or medical professionals, try reaching out to patient groups or social workers located where you are considering treatment.  If you have a rare condition, look for a national association dedicated to the condition, and you should be able to find a group that can help.  Type your diagnosis plus the word “association” into any search engine for links.

Speaking of the internet, it can be a very helpful or a very scary place when you’re ill and seeking information.  Do yourself a favor and use credible websites for information about treatments or procedures.  Try the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, or a similar organization for your information search.   If a website is trying to sell you a miracle cure, they may not have your best interest at heart.

Speak with your insurance or Medicare provider about the options you and your doctor have chosen.  Ask for a social worker at the hospital to help you understand the fees and coverage. Make your best decision based on all the information available.

Of course, if you need free medical transportation to treatment, make a flight request to Angel Flight West.  Call us today:  (888) 426-2643.  Or click here to request a flight online. We will need further information verified by a healthcare professional. For more information about making a flight request and all the helpful types of missions we fly, please click here. You may have some big decisions to make, but once you do, our volunteer pilots can help you get there.

Techniques to Help Relax While You Fly to Medical Treatment.

We’ve talked about ways to help a young child get comfortable with the idea of flying in a small plane. But what about those of us rational, level headed adults who have a fear of flying? When you are ready to take your first trip with Angel Flight West, we want you to have a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Angel Flight Take Off

If you’re nervous about flying to medical treatment, you can use breathing exercises to help calm you during your first flight, or when you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, or any time you want a little mental break.

You can practice breathing techniques in any setting. To begin, adjust your position to be as comfortable as you can, whether you are sitting, standing or lying down. Then try one of these techniques:

1. Counted breaths: Begin by focusing on your breathing, in and out through your nose if possible. Observe your breath for three in-and-out cycles. On your next inhalation, breathe in to a slow count of three, and breathe out to a slow count of four. Repeat five times. If you can, try to increase your counts, breathing in to a count of four, and breathing out to a count of six.

2. Straw breath: Purse your lips like you are sipping through a straw. This can be relaxed; the point is to make a small “O” with your mouth. Inhale slowly through your mouth, counting if you like. Pause briefly when your lungs are full, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, keeping the O shape during the exercise. Repeat your inhale and exhale, sipping the air in and out as if through a straw. You may notice the air coming in feels cooler than with regular breathing.

3. Tension and release: If you’re nervous, your muscles are probably already a little tense, so you’re already on your way to employing this next technique. To begin, take a deep breath in, and make fists with your hands (careful of your fingernails). As you exhale, release your fists and relax. Breathe in again, make fists, and clench your arms to your sides, holding the tension all the way up into your shoulders. Exhale and relax everything. Repeat as much as you’d like. If the setting allows, you can extend the tension and release to your legs, neck and shoulders and even scrunch up your face on an inhalation, and relax your whole body as you exhale.

For any of these techniques, your eyes may be open or closed, and you may repeat the breathing method for as long as you like.

All of these methods can be practiced just about anywhere to help you calm your fear of flying, and they’re all pretty subtle. If you’re waiting in the lounge for your flight with one of our commercial partners, no one will notice a little breathing practice. And if you’re with one of our Angel Flight West volunteer pilots, we don’t mind breathing and we’ll do everything possible to make you comfortable on the flight as well. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of our pilots, or let them know that you’re a little nervous. They can often help by explaining what’s going on.

Questions to Ask your Doctor about Flying for Medical Treatment

It’s always a good idea to prepare a list of questions for your doctor’s appointments, so you can think about what you want to know before you’re in the stressful setting of a doctor’s office. If you are flying with Angel Flight West for surgery or medical treatment, here are a few questions to help you and your medical team plan your trip:

1. How soon can I fly after surgery or treatment? The time may vary greatly depending on the procedure you are having. Your care provider must provide a medical release stating that it is safe for you to travel. You must also be able to walk and step up into the aircraft.  To find out what to expect click here.  Ask your doctor about recovery time so you can properly plan your flight home. For a full list of our requirements click here.

2. Is supplemental oxygen recommended for my condition? Private planes are not pressurized like commercial flights. Ask your doctor if there are any concerns.

3. Do I need specific care for stitches or a surgical site?

4. Will I be taking home medical equipment or other luggage, such as liquid medications? Our pilots need to calculate overall weight and have limited cargo space, so it’s important that we know what to expect.

5. What can I do to improve circulation during the flight? Are compression socks recommended for someone with my condition? Are there seated stretches or movements I can do during or before the flight?

6. Are there medications I should take or avoid before the flight? Ask your doctor about use of all prescription and over the counter medications before and after your flight.

7. Flying with our volunteer pilots reduces your exposure, but if your Angel Flight is with one of our commercial partners, ask your doctor for suggestions to prevent picking up a cold from one of your fellow passengers. There are many simple ways to prevent infection from crowds.

If you are flying with Angel Flight for medical treatment or have a persistent condition, it is important to discuss your travel plans with your hometown doctor and also with the medical professionals at your destination. Get the best travel advice from your doctors, so that your “angel flight(s)” can be an effective leg of your journey to health.

Resources to Prepare Your Child for Flight on a Small Plane

Kid and Plane 1

Once your Angel Flight West Flight request is vetted with a healthcare professional and approved by an AFW coordinator, we will start preparations to connect you with one of our volunteer pilots, and you’ll be ready to take the next steps on the wings of “angels”. If the flight includes a small child, here are some materials to help prepare your child for their very first flight, or their first flight on a small plane.

Flying in a 4 to 6 seat airplane is a different experience from commercial air travel. The planes are not necessarily pressurized and do not have climate control the way our commercial airline partners’ planes do. There will be new noises and you may feel the rolls and bumps as the aircraft works with wind and weather patterns. At the same time, you will have the most amazing views you’ve ever seen. We love it up above the clouds, and want you and your kids to feel the same wonder on your “angel flight”.

Here are a few books and videos you can share with your young children to help prepare them for their very first flight with Angel Flight West. We hope to make your flight(s) a highlight in your healing process.

Airplane Flight!: A Lift-the-Flap Adventure by Susanna Leonard Hill, with illustrations by Ana Martin Larranga. This airplane shaped board book recommended for ages 2 to 5 tells the story of a commercial flight in rhyme, illustrated with beautifully simple drawings. Your child can “lift the flaps” within the book to emphasize and interact with parts of the story, such as opening the wing flaps.

Away in My Airplane by Margaret Wise Brown. A lovely story of a solo pilot in a prop plane, this book has you flying through a lovely dreamscape of animals and beautiful sights. Written by the author of Goodnight Moon, this book is recommended for ages 2 to 5, and is suitable for very young children.

My First Airplane Ride by Patricia Hubbell, illustrations by Nancy Speir.  This book tells the story of a young boy’s first flight with his family. It gives excellent descriptions from a child’s perspective of the airport and security (good if you’re on a commercial flight) and what to expect in terms of noises and sensations on the plane. Recommended for ages 4 to 7.

Ask your local library about these and other books about flying and riding in airplanes. These books are also available on Amazon.

This video is of a dad taking his 9 year old daughter and toddler son for their first flight. The view is inside the plane, focused on the pilot and the kids, and includes two takeoff and landings. Dad chats with his daughter very informally about what they see outside.

As with any material, we recommend you preview these books and videos before sharing them with your child, so you are prepared to answer questions or address your child’s specific concerns.

We hope these materials will help you prepare your child for journey with Angel Flight West. To help you prepare, here is a good article that discusses the practical aspects of flying with a small child.

Angel Flight West and its volunteer pilots and commercial airline partners are part of your road to recovery. If the medical treatment that’s best for you or your child is in another city or state,  and you meet our qualifications, you can request a free flight and we’ll do our best to help you. A 400 mile trip may seem out of reach, but for a passionate pilot with a private plane, it gives them an opportunity to do what they love, to help someone else in need. We will do our best to make the flight an exciting and interesting experience; hopefully a break and an opportunity to get up and away from the daily grind of illness and treatment. We want to take you above the clouds and make the impossible distances shrink into possibility.

For more information about making a flight request and the types of missions we fly, please click here.

New Electronic Waivers

Here’s some good news from the mission coordination team: AFIDS now has an electronic version of the liability waiver form. This should make the waiver process simpler and more convenient both for our pilots and our passengers.

The electronic waiver can be used on computers, tablets and smart phones. Passengers can “sign” the form using a mouse on the computer, or using their finger or a stylus on a tablet or phone.

waiver_signedYou will need to have internet access on your device when accessing and submitting the waiver, whether using mobile data or WIFI. Please be sure to have some paper copies of the waiver with you as a backup in case your internet access fails you.

Accessing the waiver

The easiest way to access the waiver is by clicking on the link at the bottom of the email which was sent to you with your itinerary. Click on the link for the leg of the mission that you are flying to bring up the waiver. Since the waiver is specific to your leg, you’ll need to use this link to access the proper waiver for your flight. Please have your email available on the device you plan to use for the signatures to get easy access to the waiver.


Signature blocks are automatically inserted for the passenger and any companions of record in the mission leg. If the passenger is a child, a signature block is inserted for the passenger’s guardian instead of the passenger.

If the mission assistant is listed on the mission, a signature block will be added for his or her signature. If not, a blank block is provided. Under either circumstance, please have the mission assistant sign.

If you have additional people who need to sign, for example, a companion who is not listed on the mission record, click the link to “Add additional signatures.” Please ask these individuals to also enter their name using the onscreen keyboard on your device.

Once you have all the signatures, and the photo release, simply click the Submit button and the waiver will be saved. That’s it… you’re done!

Note that you can toggle between the English and Spanish versions of the waiver by clicking or tapping the link at the top of the page.


Thanks for using the new electronic waiver, and as always, thanks for all you do to provide assistance to people who need transportation to medical treatment.

Please email or call the office with any questions or feedback on the new system; we’re always looking for ways to improve the Angel Flight experience for our volunteer pilots.

For complete documentation on using the electronic waiver, please visit the AFIDS wiki.

Caregiving Resources

Dnews AngelFlight

Life happens, and being a caregiver can be overwhelming. We hope you have excellent doctors, nurses, social workers, and certainly family and friends who help you with day-to-day challenges and important healthcare decisions.

One of those decisions may well be how you can regularly get to your treatment center. Remember you can count on AFW to help with free flights to medical treatment.

Caregiving is rewarding and vital, but let’s face it: it is tough. Our goal is make your lives easier and better by providing free air transportation for your patient. Additionally, here are some excellent organizations that can give you support and ideas for help at home.

Share the Care has created an amazing model to structure a formal caregiving group. They have online resources, handbooks and advice for creating an effective and efficient caregiving team. They also have an extensive list of links to condition-specific caregiving sites.

The American Cancer Society has resources to help you understand the challenges specific to cancer caregivers. It has online support groups and a special section for parents of children with cancer.

The Caregiver Action Network site is organized into channels for each type of caregiver, and has a toolbox of checklists and online applications to help you manage everything from medication schedules to effective communication with your doctor. You can also request direct assistance from a CAN volunteer for education and support.

Lotsa Helping Hands connects volunteers with caregivers and families who request help. It’s social networking at its best. You can use this site to form a community to request help, and there are webinars and resource pages to provide excellent advice. has an extensive network of forums and discussion groups to provide emotional support and cheer for caregivers. They also have two programs to link you directly to a volunteer for one on one support.

We know a caregiver’s time gets crunched down to nothing, but 20 minutes on the internet can help you get back some time, by employing the techniques and tools on caregiving sites like those above.

Please think of the pilots and air/ground coordinators at Angel Flight West as the free transportation part of your caregiving team. A several hundred mile trip may seem out of reach, but for a passionate pilot with a private plane, it’s a way to give back using their love of flying.

If you need free transportation to medical treatment, make a flight request to Angel Flight West.  Call us today: (888) 426-2643 or click here to request a flight online. For more information about making a flight request and all the helpful types of missions we fly, please click here.

The flight itself can be an exciting and interesting experience; a healing break from the daily grind of illness and treatment in your lives. We want to fly you above the clouds into a world of hope and possibilities.

Medical Transportation from Angel Flight West: How Does it Work?

At Angel Flight West we want you to know that good things come in threes. Two wings and an engine make a trio to provide flights for medical or humanitarian services. A pilot, a passenger in need and an AFW coordinator brought together “give hope wings” by arranging vital travel. A critically ill teen, a medical team and a new liver can all be connected by a volunteer pilot from Angel Flight West. Service, impact and help are the three corners that make up Angel Flight West.

AFW Sunset Pix

1. Service: Angel Flight West arranges free air transportation for those with compelling need.

  1. Many know us as the volunteer pilots, or “Angels” who fly patients to cancer treatment, but AFW does not discriminate when it comes to need. We fly patients to and from chemotherapy, we fly missions for patients who need surgery or other medical procedures. We fly veterans as part of the Honor Flights and help relocate victims of domestic violence. We fly kids and teens to special needs camp when they want a normalizing experience due to health or family circumstances, and some of our “passengers” are containers of blood or donor organs. Please click here for a full list of the types of missions we fly, and contact us if you have questions.
  2. Angel Flight West serves 13 Western states, but our service does not stop at the Rockies. We work collaboratively with other volunteer pilot organizations, and help other volunteer air passenger assistance organizations coordinate travel.
  3. If you have an appointment in selected areas, our Earth Angels volunteers can help with ground transportation to and from the airport. We will do our best to assist any passenger with a medical or humanitarian need, and refer you to other organizations if we are unable to help.

2. Impact: What our pilot volunteers, staff and partners make possible.

  1. In more than 30 years of service to the Western United States, Angel Flight West has flown nearly 60,000 missions carrying passengers and vital cargo from remote areas in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
  2. In 2012, AFW volunteer pilots and commercial partners donated flight services valued at $3.35 million, saving passengers in need that out-of-pocket expenditure. In addition to our volunteer pilots, AFW also uses generously donated commercial flights from our commercial airline partners, including Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Great Lakes Airlines, and Penn Air.
  3. Our pilot volunteers donate their time and expertise, planes and fuel. For every dollar we raise, our volunteer pilots and commercial airline partners provide approximately four times that amount in free flight services.

3. Help: How Angel Flight West can help you.

  1. We “give hope wings” by getting you safely to your destination, whether it’s a hospital, clinic or another venue for your journey towards health and well-being.
  2. We cover the distance between your rural hometown and a remote hospital or facility. We are committed to getting you where you or your family need to be.
  3. We save you time and money so you can focus your energy on getting well and improving your quality of life. And flying in a 4 to 6 seat plane is an exciting experience we love to share with our passengers! We’d like to make your Angel flight experience a breather from the challenges in your life.

If you think you may need help from Angel Flight, please click here to see if you’re qualified for our services. Of course, this is just the highlights. For more information about our services, impact or how we can help you, please click here.