Angel Flight West
- Need: Free, non-emergency air travel for people of all ages with serious medical issues or other compelling needs.
- Intervention: A network of more than 1,400 pilots donate their piloting skills, aircraft, and all costs associated with flying to help families and individuals in need in the 13 western states of the United States.
- Results: Families are able to receive vital medical treatment and have other needs met that might not otherwise be possible because of financial, medical, or geographic limitations.
The mission of Angel Flight West (AFW) is to arrange free air transportation in response to healthcare and other compelling human needs. Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, AFW links both volunteer private pilots and commercial airlines with people in need whose non-emergency healthcare problems require them to travel to and from medical facilities throughout the 13 western states, including Alaska and Hawaii.
AFW's commercial airline partners – Alaska Airlines, JetSuiteX, and Mokulele Airlines – donate tickets when it is impractical for small aircraft to fly in the western portion of the United States. The AFW volunteer pilots donate their time, fuel, and aircraft. The costs of all flights are donated and a patient is never charged for an AFW mission.
The initial request for an AFW flight can be submitted by a passenger or medical professional online or over the phone.
To be eligible for an AFW mission, a person must have a financial or other compelling need. Another reason for using AFW is living in a rural area where the closest medical facility for treatment of their condition may be hours away. With over 5,000 general aviation airports located throughout the nation, access to healthcare using air transportation has become easier.
Funding for Angel Flight West comes primarily from individual and corporate donations (both cash and in-kind), foundations, and grants.
Angel Flight West provides the following services for patients:
- Medical transportation for those who are medically stable and able to walk
- Compassion flights for persons traveling to care for or visit a seriously ill family member
- Air transport to special needs camps for children and adults
- Domestic violence relocation to enable survivors to move to a safer location
- Assistance for military personnel, including the Wounded Warriors Program
- Transport of blood, organ, and tissue donations
- Disaster response to assist in relocating displaced residents
- Air transport for transplant recipients
AFW coordinates ground volunteer drivers, or "Earth Angels," to transport passengers from the airport to their treatment facility, lodging, or back home after their return flight.
Since the start of the program, Angel Flight West has celebrated the following successes:
- 36 years of service with over 75,000 missions completed
- 4,809 flights completed in 2018, an average of over 13 missions each day
- 2,746 total passengers served
- One-third of Angel Flight West passengers are youth, one-half are ethnic or cultural minorities, and 80% have incomes at the low or poverty levels
Angel Flight West is increasing their outreach efforts to patients and medical providers to increase awareness of their services and have been noticed in the media:
- Angel Flights Get Sylvia to Treatment, Breast Cancer Site, 2018
- Angel Flight West Brings Hope To Woman Battling Chronic Pain, CBS Sacramento, 2018
- Angel Flight West: Overcoming the Transportation Barrier, Northwest Regional Primary Care Association, 2018
- Spokane pilots among angels who fly medical transports, The Spokesman-Review, 2017
- Angel Flight West grants life saving flights to kids, 9News, 2017
AFW received the 2018 Biden Cancer Initiative Fierce Award for patient navigation.
Like many nonprofits, a continuing challenge of running Angel Flight West is the financial aspect - primarily relying on income from donations.
AFW has found that awareness of their flight services in healthcare settings is not as widespread as it could be. They are currently working on increasing their outreach to patients and providers while continuing their pilot recruitment efforts.
One of the biggest challenges is convincing potential passengers and healthcare facilities that Angel Flight West's services are completely free to the passenger and medical facility. Because it almost seems too good to be true, many people believe there must be a catch.
The 3 key factors to success in running an organization like AFW are a network of dedicated volunteers, a passionate and compassionate staff, and a visionary and supportive Board of Directors.
Integral to the success of AFW is the Angel Flight Information Database System (AFIDS). In 2012 it was released as open source software for use by other volunteer pilot organizations.
Available on the Angel Flight West website is a useful page with many forms and documents available for downloading, including the Command Pilot Manual, electronic waivers of liability, and the Mission Orientation Guide.
June 7, 2007
Date updated or reviewed
December 23, 2019
Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2019. Angel Flight West [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/project-examples/399 [Accessed 19 April 2021]
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.