Airline's medicine ban leaves passenger in coma

By James Ihaka

A diabetic man fell into a coma because airport staff refused to let him take his insulin on board a flight from Auckland to Christchurch.

Qantas yesterday apologised to Tui Peter Russell, who had a severe attack on the plane and was in hospital for two weeks.

Mr Russell said check-in staff at Auckland Airport told him he could not take his medication on board because it was dangerous.

The 43-year-old Glen Innes chef said he had flown many times with Qantas and had never had problems taking his medicine on board.

The medication was clearly labelled, he said.

"They thought I would hurt somebody, but I was only flying to Christchurch, not LA," said Mr Russell.

He started feeling ill during the flight last month and called a flight attendant.

"They asked where the insulin was, and they weren't very happy when they found out I wasn't allowed to bring it on board."

Mr Russell praised cabin crew who tried to keep him conscious and gave him oxygen until they arrived in Christchurch.

But he fell into a coma shortly before the aircraft landed and spent two weeks in Christchurch Hospital.

A Qantas spokeswoman said Mr Russell was "wrongly advised at the check-in desk" to pack his insulin medication in his baggage.

The airline had apologised for the "distress and inconvenience surrounding his travel", she said.

Qantas said passengers were permitted to take any essential medication and prescriptions on board in their hand luggage.

"Mr Russell was wrongly advised at the check-in desk to pack his insulin into his check-in baggage.

"We have taken steps to avoid a repeat occurrence including contacting Air New Zealand, who perform our check-in services in New Zealand," she said.

An Air New Zealand official said Aviation Security had the final say on what was taken on board an aircraft, but passengers with prescription items could take what they needed for their flight, provided they were correctly labelled and named.

Mr Russell said Qantas had offered him a free return flight from Auckland to Christchurch, but he also wanted help from the airline to recover $500 in hospital and medication bills.

The Qantas spokeswoman said the airline was still talking to Mr Russell in an effort to resolve his concerns.

Mr Russell said he wanted to raise the issue for other people who had similar conditions and needed to take medication on aircraft.

"I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through."

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