Angel Flight East

In 1992, pilot Harry Morales was determined to help with relief efforts after Hurricane Andrew. But his home state of Pennsylvania did not have a flying organization that served populations in need. So, he started Angel Flight East in 1993. 

AFE offers adults and children with chronic illness free air travel to hospitals and healthcare establishments that are otherwise too far to easily access the medical treatment they need. AFE averages 700-800 flights a year and has 325 volunteer pilots. We spoke with Jess Ames, AFE’s Programs and Events Coordinator, to learn more. 
Are there any health issues you cater to in particular, or health issues you are restricted from accommodating? 

We fly passengers for a variety of reasons including cancer and rare disease treatments, clinical trials, immune conditions that prevent flying on a commercial aircraft, and other medical issues that must be addressed far from home. Two major factors that are involved in qualifying a patient is to confirm that he or she is medically stable and ambulatory to board a small airplane. All passengers must be cleared by a doctor to fly with us. There is also a “Need Verification” form that is filled out by a third party confirming travel expenses would pose a hardship for the individual. 

Need is not always financial – a person’s immune system may be so weak that they cannot fly on a commercial airplane. We rarely fly a person just one time. There is no limit on the amount of flights someone can take and there is never a charge.

Are there any stories you can share that stand out about individuals that AFE has served? 
Brayden from Greenville, South Carolina was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was just a baby. Brayden’s dad also had the same exact cancer as a child. His family had to figure out how they would get to Philadelphia every third week for Brayden’s treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His mom considered moving to the city, leaving her husband and two other daughters behind in South Carolina. AFE stepped in to help and not only alleviated the stress of travel but helped keep the family together. Eight years later, we are happy to say Brayden is cancer free and only must travel to Philadelphia once a year for a checkup appointment. Brayden tells his friends at school that he has his own airplanes and pilots!

If you cannot accommodate or help a family or person in need, are there other resources you direct them to? 

It is very rare we turn people away without giving them a resource. Many times, a person will call who is not in AFE’s territory or the distance is too long to accommodate. We often refer these people to other public benefit flying organizations. There are over 60 public benefit flying organizations across the country. Although we work together, all organizations are separate entities. In talking to passengers on the phone, we can get a feel for their situation and if other resources are needed. 

We also work closely with different nonprofit organizations who help pay household bills or provide lodging for families traveling for medical care. In those instances, we connect the family directly with those type of organizations. 

What future plans can you tell us about?

The Rural and Rare Reach program is a new outreach effort we are part of that aims to broaden access to available high-level medical care for rural patients, persons with cancer or rare diseases and children with serious congenital conditions. This program will allow us to reach underserved populations in regions with less access to specialist care, specifically rural communities in Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of working with this organization? 

For many people, the thought of having to travel hundreds of miles away for medical care never crosses their mind. For the families AFE helps, this is often their biggest challenge and last chance. We get to see firsthand the difference public benefit flying makes and the hope it can give to passengers who didn’t have any other options. 

The volunteer pilots take on all costs of the flight, which can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000. The generosity of these men and women is incredible. The majority of the pilots have full times jobs and flying is just a hobby. Oftentimes, they will change their work and personal schedule to help a stranger in need. My favorite part is the bond that forms between a passenger and a pilot. To see that bond form is just a bonus to working at AFE.

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