Right out of college, Joseph McNamara -- now the owner of Tzell Travel Group affiliate Sky Cap Corp. -- started working for a medical escort company based in Boca Raton, Fla.
McNamara was the company's director of operations. It worked with a traditional travel agent that wasn't familiar with the medical escort industry but was able to provide flights for the company's clients.
"I realized that there was really an opportunity in the travel industry to have someone that focused specifically on those types of clients," he said.
McNamara took a leap and affiliated with a host agency in 2010.
Business took off, and McNamara affiliated with Tzell a few years after starting his business. He's been there ever since.
His specialization involves arranging transport for sick or injured travelers. He was drawn to it because his goal has always been a career that helps people.
"Every transport, you're helping someone," McNamara said.
McNamara primarily works with travel assistance and insurance companies around the world. Sky Cap Corp. makes all of their travel arrangements, from the simplest to the most complex.
On the simple end of the spectrum is a noncritical patient that needs to come home but can fly by themselves in a higher class of seating, he said. The more complex transports involve sending a nurse or a physician to the patient's location. Oftentimes that means liaising with airlines for medical clearance for things like in-air oxygen.
The most complex type of case involves a passenger who can't sit up. In that case, McNamara works with certain airlines (not all offer the service) to have seats removed from the aircraft to install a stretcher.
"Every day we're helping people," he said. "Every day it's unique, it's exciting. And everything changes."
There are a few other travel agencies who do what McNamara does, he said, and some medical escort companies have in-house advisors; Sky Cap Corp. business has all been referral-based.
Like every other agency, Sky Cap Corp. has found itself dealing with the coronavirus crisis.
"If you ask me one word to describe the experience, it's been challenging," McNamara said. "But certainly, I always say that our job, even when coronavirus isn't here, is challenging."
The biggest challenges the pandemic has brought have been around different countries' travel restrictions.
For instance, at the beginning of the pandemic, Sky Cap Corp. had a patient in Papeete, Tahiti, who needed to return home to Canada. McNamara arranged to fly a Canadian nurse there by way of Seoul, South Korea, then Phuket, Thailand. Then, the patient and nurse would travel back from Phuket to Doha, Qatar, and on to Montreal.
On her way to get to the patient, the nurse made it as far as Seoul, then flights started to shut down.
"We worked with an air ambulance company to take the patient from Phuket to Seoul," McNamara said, but then there was another problem: Seoul wasn't allowing any transport.
McNamara had to work with the local government to get approval to land the private transport, then transfer to the commercial flight. It worked out in the end.
"The whole virus, it's just been maneuvering," McNamara said. "Even if we set up a repatriation that looks perfect, something has come up, but we just have to think outside the box."