International patient travel: commercial flight or air ambulance?

Travelling by air when you’re injured or unwell can be a daunting prospect. Your holiday or time away has been cut short by frightening circumstances and you’re unsure how to get home. Whether you have an existing condition which has worsened, or you’ve become unwell abroad and require medical repatriation, air travel is often still the quickest way to return home. But what are the options? Can you fly commercially or do you need a dedicated air ambulance?

International patient travel commercial flight or air ambulance

If you’re considering medical repatriation for yourself or a loved one, you might well be feeling overwhelmed and anxious, but our experienced team can help you explore your options. The all inclusive services we provide aim to reduce any unnecessary stress surrounding the process and ensure the patient receives first-class medical care during their journey home. We take care of all the paperwork involved and liaise with hospitals on both sides to make sure the transport runs smoothly and a bed is waiting on the other side.

More often than not, your experience of medical repatriation is a one-off and the jargon can seem confusing. To help demystify your options, we’ve outlined the most common questions you’re likely to have at this initial stage.


Air ambulance involves a medical repatriation by a private air vehicle such as a helicopter or aeroplane. Along with a dedicated medical team, each air vehicle EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation uses has been fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment and life-saving technology.

An alternative option for medical repatriation by air travel, is a commercial flight accompanied by EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation medical escort team. The medical team will pick the patient up from the local hospital and accompany them on a flight with a commercial airline that meets our standards. All necessary medicine and equipment will be brought on the aircraft by the medical team, while our office staff make all other arrangements. Once the plane lands in your home country, the team will travel with the patient to your chosen hospital and won’t leave until the patient is settled and a successful handover has taken place.

Deciding between the two depends on a variety of factors.


Private air ambulance is simply the fastest way to bring a patient back home – albeit the costliest option. However, if you or your loved one is critically ill or medical care from home is required urgently, then air ambulance is ideal.

There are also several instances when commercial flight options will be ruled out such as the need for a patient’s ventilator or if you have a potentially infectious disease, but we will help to assess each case when you contact us.

Far away from home? Distance is not an issue for an air ambulance as it enables the medical team to transport patients over long or short distances from any location. In most cases, a companion can travel with the patient, but this is at the discretion of the medical team.


If a case is considered ‘non-urgent’ such as broken limbs, then a medical escort team on a commercial flight could be the best option. The same medical care and dedication is provided but this option can be advantageous for several reasons. In some cases, it may be possible to make your original flight home (depending on seat availability for the medical escort team), an alternative commercial flight can be booked quickly and the cost is considerably lower in comparison to private air ambulance.

Remember, that although your condition may not be considered urgent, you may be unable to fly commercially if you have an infectious disease or if your care will be potentially harmful to others.

But don’t worry about having to make all these important decisions by yourself. Our team will assess the patient carefully to advise if they are fit to fly commercially and will help you make the best decision for your situation.


It’s important to have the relevant and appropriate medical repatriation cover in your travel insurance policy. Many insurance policies will cover some or all of the cost of medical repatriation, but clauses can apply relating to circumstance such as injury during adventure holidays, high risk activities or pre-existing conditions.

If you’re unsure of your policy, our team can support you in liaising with the insurance company before you agree to use EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation services.


If you would like to talk through your situation and find out about your options, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, you can fill out our contact form to request a free quote – without any obligation – to get a clearer picture of what’s involved.

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