Face masks remain a seldom sight among the public in Norway, and they’re not recommended by Norwegian health authorities. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) now demands their use on all flights, however, and that was linked to an emergency on a flight from Oslo to Bodø last week.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that a male passenger fell asleep with his face mask on, and suddenly fainted. A fellow passenger noticed something was wrong, stood up and asked, in English, whether there was a doctor on board.
It so happened that an intensive care nurse and a midwife were seated close to the unconscious man. Aftenposten journalist Jan Gunnar Furuly, who was sitting in the next row as well and witnessed the entire incident, reported that they managed to lay him down on his side in the aisle and were about to begin heart compression when he suddenly came to, and gasped after air himself.
“I think he hyperventilated inside the mask when he had problems breathing,” Line Hillestad, who normally delivers babies at Nordland Hospital in Bodø, told Aftenposten. The 35-year-old man, who didn’t want to be identified, said he didn’t remember anything from the time he fell asleep listening to music on his headphones until he found himself lying in the aisle and staring into Hillestad’s eyes.
Both Hillestad and nurse Sandra Karoliussen Hammer, who assisted with the first aid, stressed that they both support the use of face masks on board flights. They don’t want the incident on SAS to create any undue concern but noted that most people are unaccustomed to wearing a face mask and can have problems breathing normally.
SAS spokesman John Eckhoff declined comment on the incident but noted that face masks are obligatory from May 18 through August 31. “It’s become industry standard in Europe in recent weeks,” Eckhoff told Aftenposten. “Thousands of people have already flown with face masks.”
Dr Bjørn Iversen of Norway’s public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) still doesn’t think it’s necessary. FHI hasn’t issued any demands for face mask use and rather has stressed that shortages of medical face masks mean they should be reserved for health care personnel.
Iversen wasn’t aware of any such incidents of people fainting after falling asleep while wearing a face mask. “What we do know is that wearing a face mask for an extended period is uncomfortable for most,” he told Aftenposten, adding that some people complain of headaches and fatigue.
Iversen is part of a working group at the health institute that’s following face mask use around the world, but he repeated that given Norway’s low and declining infection rates, FHI has not recommended their widespread use.
They can be useful, he noted, during check-in at airports, while standing in lines during boarding and leaving the aircraft, and while waiting for baggage around crowded carousels. Air circulation and ventilation filters are otherwise “now very good on modern aircraft,” Iversen said.