Blog by: Laura Parrotta
Laura Parrotta is Individual Giving Manager at ORBIS’s New York office.
On Saturday, July 27, 2013 I had the unique and rare opportunity to fly on the one and only ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital (FEH) from Indianapolis (IN) to Panama City (Panama), where a three week training program was about to begin. As an ORBIS employee, I see this unique aircraft essentially as a hospital and a training facility. It is a tool that helps us deliver training programs and achieve our mission of saving-sight worldwide. I had never really looked at the plane as a method of transportation.
No tickets are needed to fly on the FEH. You need approval from our Director of Aircraft Operations, Bruce Johnson, and you must have a good reason to be there. For this program the plane was in Indianapolis at a FedEx facility for loading supplies and it was convenient for staff to be transported on the plane. Obviously, flying on the only “hospital with wings” doesn’t prevent you from having to show your passport or go through security! Although departing from a FedEx facility does help beat the crowd.
certainly unique is that the pilots are all volunteers. FedEx and United pilots
kindly volunteer their time to ORBIS to fly the FEH. As it was my first ORBIS
flight, they kindly offered for me to sit in the
cockpit for take-off. Needless to say this was an amazing experience in itself and I couldn’t believe what had just happened when I went back to my seat in the FEH classroom for the rest of the flight.
Inside the classroom the plane looks like any other commercial flight: people are resting, watching a movie or chatting. What you won’t find on a commercial flight though is such a personalized service. On the FEH, this service is second to none! FEH team members are trained as flight attendants and anytime the team travels on the plane designated members of the team become flight attendants for a few hours.
The main focus of the training is to ensure flight safety and for the team to be prepared in case of emergency. This time it is Angela – recently appointed as the Head Nurse on the Flying Eye Hospital – and Anna Maria, staff ophthalmologist. They take the job very seriously and look after all of us to make sure everyone has coffee and food. They tell me that this is all part of the job and all the Flying Eye Hospital staff gets trained to do it. That’s a world away from being a nurse or an ophthalmologist, but it is part of the job.
I will be honest and tell you that the food was no better than any other flight. Yet, you don’t get the opportunity to fly in a hospital that has been to 78 countries and trained thousands of eye care professionals around the world.
The plane will retire when we launch our new MD-10 Flying Eye Hospital and so I feel honored and privileged to have had a flight on this very special aircraft.