January 18, 2022

Angel Flight East Takes Generosity to New Heights

Author Aly Semigran, Content Specialist

An illness doesn’t just take a physical toll on a person and their loved ones; it is often just as draining mentally, emotionally and financially. In addition to the high cost of health care, there are all sorts of unforeseen expenses, including travel and transportation.

A patient’s care can sometimes be a plane ride away, and for some, the price of airfare may be a deciding factor on whether they get the care they deserve. That’s where Angel Flight East comes in.

Established in 1992, Angel Flight East provides free air transportation for those in need of treatment and medical care far from home. Patients who demonstrate financial need are matched with one of the organization’s 400 registered volunteer pilots. The group has a 14-state reach on the East Coast, from Maine to Virginia.

“We’ve come a long way,” explains Angel Flight East Outreach and Events Director, Jessica Ames. In its first year, the organization flew just 17 flights, and now they schedule more than 1,200 flights annually.

Many of these flights, Ames explains, are for patients who need to get to their cancer treatments and follow-up appointments. “We fly a lot of kids with rare diseases to places like Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston Children’s Hospital.”

30% of Angel Flight East’s passengers are children, but no matter their age or illness, the organization will fly a patient so long as they are medically stable and capable of boarding a small plane. Small flights like these are often the only choice for immunocompromised patients for whom flying on a crowded, commercial flight isn’t an option.

Angel Flight East provides free air transportation for those in need of treatment and care far from home.

On board, a flight will consist of just the pilot, the patient, and sometimes a caregiver. And while the crew may be small, the bond that pilots and patients establish during these flights is immense. “Our favorite part of this whole operation is these people start out as complete strangers and they build lifelong friendships during these flights.”

The children who ride with Angel Flight East are, unsurprisingly, a favorite for many of the volunteer pilots, and vice versa. Ames recalls a boy named Brayden from South Carolina who was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye, when he was just a baby.

“Luckily, Brayden’s family caught it pretty early, and he was treated at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia,” Ames says, adding, “He flew continuously for seven years for follow-up appointments.” Brayden loved his adventures with Angel Flight East—he used to tell his classmates that he had his own fleet of pilots. A popular passenger, whenever his family requested a flight, Ames says that his flights would be booked in mere minutes.

Donor support is critical for these flights. Because all pilots are volunteers, it’s the staff behind the scenes that handle the coordination and logistics. Grants from donor-advised funds, like NPT’s, help the organization keep administrative and operations costs limited.

“We are a travel agency of sorts,” Ames explains, noting that the staff coordinates everything between the patients and the pilots, getting down all the important logistics before taking off, from the moment a flight is requested to their landing at the hospital. “We get people to their critical medical care and they never have to worry about annoying travel logistics.”

Like so many other organizations over the past year and a half, Angel Flight East had to change course. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Ames says they had to shut down all flight operations for three months due to social distancing restrictions.

But many of the organization’s volunteer pilots still wanted to help. Angel Flight East pilots started transporting PPE equipment by air to health care facilities that needed them—everything from face masks to hand sanitizers. Ames estimates Angel Flight East pilots have delivered upwards of 250,000 pieces of PPE to regions throughout the Northeast. The organization is now safely back to flying patients and making critical deliveries in disaster zones.

And that, at its core, is what Angel Flight East is all about: having hope reach its destination.

Aly Semigran is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She has been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, with articles in Billboard, Well + Good and Mic, among many other notable publications. In addition to her editorial background, Aly is currently getting her Masters of Social Work degree from Temple University. She resides in Philadelphia with her dog.

NPT is not affiliated with any of the organizations described herein, and the inclusion of any organization in this material should not be considered an endorsement by NPT of such organization, or its services or products.

NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be, and shall not be relied upon as, legal or tax advice. The applicability of information contained here may vary depending on individual circumstances.