TAMPA — Two days after Christmas, Mike Honeycutt was headed to his Westshore offices when he got the call: An American tourist had a heart attack in Jamaica and had to go home.
So Honeycutt, CEO of air ambulance and medical evacuation company Jet ICU and a pilot himself, flew in his medical team to bring the man back — all in all, a pretty typical Tuesday.
Honeycutt, 53, is from the small North Carolina town where planes wiped out crops and military jets from a nearby base flew overhead. He’s married to Becky, lives in Palm Harbor, just became a grandfather and, oh yeah, has circled the globe a few times. He prefers a pilot’s seat to an office chair.
The family business he runs with his father, Bill, is 7 planes and 10 pilots with dozens of medical, transportation, communications and administrative staff. In the office hall, his father runs the company that provides travel insurance for missionaries.
When you’ve seen most of the Seven Wonders, there are plenty of stories — like the time at the height of the pandemic when an island nation was reluctant to let a cruise ship passenger with COVID disembark there to board a Jet ICU plane. in the U.S. “We ended up exchanging a fan,” Honeycutt said, to make it happen.
A conversation with Mike Honeycutt. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How early did you realize you wanted to fly?
In high school, last year. I was trying to decide what to do. My father’s best friend grew up a duster and (became an airline pilot). He told me about his job, he worked 15 days a month, traveled the world.
Then I went out and did my first beginner flight and was hooked. I wanted to see the world.
How did Jet ICU’s business evolve?
I flew cargo for a while. This led me to fly around three of the NASCAR teams.
I started flying for a small air ambulance … They would go anywhere in the world in a moment. I loved it, being from a small town. In six months, I’d be on four, maybe five continents. You can see a few things. But by no means is it a vacation.
I have seen the Great Wall from the air. This is very pretty.
I got a job at a small airline, Midway, and I missed what I (had been) doing. A lot of people like the schedule, and for me, getting a phone call, pack your bags, you’re going to Berlin, that was exciting. I miss you.
(After 911, he took early leave and returned to the air ambulance company. After it folded, he decided in 2003 to start his own.)
There is something to be said for being young and ambitious. I have a friend in the insurance business who says “It’s not impossible, it just takes more time.”
Two days after Christmas, you were on your way to Jamaica and back. Is this last-minute scramble pretty typical?
This is what we specialize in, anywhere in the world, what we call long-distance medical transport. Ninety percent of our trips are urgent like this. We don’t have a lot of planning involved. This is the nature of business.
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The doctor (team members) will tell me: Time is tissue.
Did the patient make it in Jamaica?
He did. They were optimistic that he would make a good recovery.
What is the biggest part of the business – sick or injured passengers on cruise ships? Cases like Florida Boy With Rare Brain-Eating Amoeba did you fly to chicago for care? Tourists in foreign countries?
We do a lot of work with Canadians (who fly home to universal health care.) We do a lot with cruise lines … all kinds of medical emergencies. We do a lot of work with Johns Hopkins (All Children’s Hospital) with transporting preemies. We make lots of babies and everything in between.
On a trip out of Europe, we picked up a 94-year-old gentleman. One of my nurses asked him, “Well, do you think you’re going to stop traveling now?” He said, “What, am I going to sit on my porch and wait to die?”
It opened my eyes, it changed my life. He is right.
Do you follow up with patients after your part is over?
We do. We get a lot of feedback (cards, notes, and in one recent case, a photo of a boy recovering in a hospital bed after an incident while snorkeling with his family in Turks and Caicos.) Our nurses develop a relationship with patients. and travel companions.
(After Honeycutt’s dad heard about the premature twin babies in Utah who had to be flown home to St. Petersburg, Jet ICU flew them in.) Dad has been to two birthday parties (since then). We have stayed close to them.
This is a very rewarding business.
News stories have noted cases in which ICU transport by Jet has been offered for free—for example, when the family of one University of South Florida student injured in car accident while visiting Cuba in 2015 he was unable to fly home. (The company recently offered discounted shipping for one The 12-year-old girl who was the only survivor when her family was in a head-on wreck while on vacation in Mexico in June.)
You know, we are blessed. When we feel the need to dance, we do. Tampa is my small town now. You help your neighbors.
Talk about a case that sticks with you.
There are so many.
There was a girl I flew in ’98. She was 18 years old, terminally ill. She had bone marrow cancer. They brought him from Oslo for a new treatment they were trying. It didn’t work for him, so we were taking him home. (On that flight they had to divert her, land her and wheel her through customs.) She was in a lot of pain.
So we took it out. I said “I’m so sorry we had to stop.” She said, “No – thank you. You’re taking me home so I can die with my family.”
How many miles do you think you logged?
I have flown east around the world three times. Twice in the west. From a pilot’s point of view, not many people do. I have been blessed.
So more miles than I remember.
It’s a great day to see the sun rise and set on the same day at 41,000 feet.
Is flying still fun?
It is. They say that if you do something you love, you never work a day in your life.