Plane Sense

As I have said before, there is a mental health crisis in America. Resources that were once available to treat patients suffering from mental illnesses are dwindling.

Five months later, we continue to see the impact Hurricane Katrina has had on the healthcare industry of New Orleans. Seven of the 15 major hospitals are open, but only one full-service hospital is functioning within the city limits. Hospice, physical therapy, and psychiatric resources are virtually unavailable. I remind everyone of this because of the two recent incidents regarding individuals described as having a mental illness, and the "friendly skies" of our airline industry.

I do not want to talk about airline safety — I am all for it. Go ahead, search, profile — do whatever you need to do to keep people safe. What I do want to talk about is "consumer sensitivity." In many parts of America, especially in the service industry, businesses adhere to a “consumer bill of rights.” Many of these guidelines are self-imposed, but consumers expect to get fair, well-informed, objective information on the services or products they are about to receive.

Hospitals, for instance, have a Patient Bill of Rights. We are expected to get information on services, options, and financial responsibility, and we know whom to speak to if we’re dissatisfied. Hospitals take this very seriously. They use feedback, not only to protect future patients, but also to learn and improve their services.

I might be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I think airlines could do a better job in their ability to gauge consumer sensitivity. Many individuals rely on airline travel to stay in touch with family, friends, and of course, for business. Airline travel has become a necessity, not a luxury. One thing that I have noticed is the level of stress that travel creates. EVERYONE is stressed — passengers dealing with strict regulations, airport staff dealing with stressed out passengers, and of course, the flight crews.

Everyone has to MOVE! You hear tips from travel experts, “travel light,” “keep the essentials with you,” “plan to wait.” No wonder patients with mental health disabilities get lost in the shuffle.

In a recent USA TODAY article, a veteran pilot says, "passengers do crazy things.” But here’s the quote that got me: "Our problem really is, where has civility gone in the airlines? When someone steps outside those boundaries, there’s only so much tolerance we can afford."

Look, civility is a two way street. The industry and mental health advocacy groups need to work together to protect the public, and more importantly, help patients with mental health disabilities enjoy our friendly skies again.

What do you mean my flight is cancelled?

P.S. Don't forget to watch FOX News Channel. And please feel free to write to me at DRMANNY@FOXNEWS.COM and tell me what you think. Ask a question, share a thought, share a remedy — We'll try to answer all of your mail online or on the air.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit