Differences Between Air Ambulance and Air Stretcher
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Differences Between Air Ambulance vs Air Stretcher


When facing the need for medical transportation, a wide array of options exist for patients. These different modes of transportation are used for different situations. Some are focused on emergency transport, while others are used for non-emergency cases. The transportation chosen may also largely depend on the medical condition of the patient that is to be transported and the distance that they would be conveyed. Both air ambulances and air stretchers deal with medical transportation by air. While there are similarities between them, there exist some differences also.

Air ambulance 

Air ambulance is usually used for emergencies. In some cases, helicopters are used to convey the patient. The destination of air ambulances is usually a trauma center, emergency unit, or intensive care unit. The situation where air ambulance is commonly put to use is after road accidents or natural disasters. The helicopter flies to the scene quickly, carry the injured person or people, and transports them to a medical facility.


Commercial Air stretchers

This service is limited to international travel only; it is simply putting a stretcher in a regular commercial aircraft along with a critical medical team to transport a patient. The service is cheaper than a conventional air ambulance service. It is usually used for non-emergency cases, for example, when a patient needs to travel to another country for an organ transplant.

How does it work?

A block of 6-12seats is removed from a commercial airline to make room for the patient. An airline commercial stretcher bed is then installed in the space to accommodate the patient safely. The area is then secured with a privacy curtain, and the medical equipment for the patient is set up beside the stretcher. The accompanying medical team will have their seats adjacent to the medical stretcher in order to monitor the patient during the flight.

air ambulance vs air stretcher
Picture courtesy: Nigeria Health Watch

What are the similarities between air ambulances and air stretchers?

Some of the similarities between air ambulances and air stretchers can be defined under the following topics as follows.

Mode of travel

They both employ the use of aircraft as their mode of transportation. Air ambulance service can be done with helicopters, private jets, etc., while air stretcher service is usually provided by commercial airlines.   

Medical equipment

Both services have personalized and specialized medical equipment that is provided for the patient. The equipment is provided to sustain and, if need be, revive the patient on the journey. Some of the equipment that is commonly found in both services includes oxygen masks, defibrillators, ECG, intravenous fluids, oxygen canisters, splints, bandages, etc.

Assigned medical staff

In both services, there are trained medical personnel provided for the patient. These personnel monitor the patient’s vital signs while also ensuring that the patient is comfortable. They also are responsible for sustaining and reviving the patient in the case of any emergencies during the flight.


Both services are tailored for the comfort and convenience of the patient. In medical air stretcher, a space that is usually closed off with privacy curtains is created for the patient. This is to ensure that he is not disturbed or ogled during the flight. Similarly, in an air ambulance, it is basically just the patient, his assigned medical staff, and one or two relatives on the flight, ensuring that the patient is very comfortable during their journey. Air travel also guarantees smoothness of travel, unlike in road ambulance, where there may be bumps and jarring of the patient.

Faster speed

This is the main advantage of both services. They ensure that the patient reaches their destination quickly, bypassing any traffic or roadblocks. This ensures that the patient gets their much-needed medical care very speedily, avoiding any danger that may arise due to delay.

What are the differences between air ambulances vs commercial air stretchers?

The differences can also be discussed under the following topics.


Air ambulance is more personalized or tailored than air stretchers. The medical personnel traveling with the patient in an air ambulance are highly intimated with the patient’s case. The trip is tailored for the patient’s comfort in an air ambulance, while this is not so in air stretchers.


Commercial airline stretchers cost about a third of what an air ambulance would cost. This is due to the fact that the stretcher is less specialized than an air ambulance.

Travel specification

Commercial airline stretchers are mainly used for international transportation of patients, while this is not so in air ambulance services. An air ambulance can be hired to take a patient from the patient’s home or hospital to another hospital within a country or outside the country.

More family and luggage

Another advantage of commercial airline stretchers is the provision of more space for family members of the patient, as they can book as many seats as they desire in the commercial airline. This is usually not so in an air ambulance, as the space for family is limited to just one or two companions due to the capacity of the aircraft. Additionally, more companions also require more space for their luggage. This space is limited in an air ambulance but not in an air stretcher service, as the family can even pay for extra luggage space in the commercial airline.

Travel time 

Commercial airline stretchers have fewer stops than traditional air ambulances over long-distance travel. This makes the travel time relatively less. This is because the commercial airline has a much longer non-stop range than the smaller jet used for air ambulance service. Also, due to the larger size of the commercial airline, it is less likely to be affected by weather conditions than the smaller-sized air ambulance jet.

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