TAMPA — Two days after Christmas, Mike Honeycutt was headed to his Westshore offices when he got the call: An American tourist had suffered a heart attack in Jamaica and had to return home.
And so the CEO of air ambulance and medical evacuation company Jet ICU and the pilot himself flew in with their medical team to bring the man back — all on Tuesday.
Honeycutt, 53, is from a small town in North Carolina where planes dusted crops and military jets flew nearby. He’s married to Becky, lives in Palm Harbor, is now a grandfather and, yes, has traveled the world many times. He prefers a pilot’s seat to an office chair.
The family business, which he runs with his father Bill, has 7 planes and 10 pilots with dozens of medical, transportation, communications and administrative staff. Down the hall in his office, his father works on the side of a company that handles travelers’ insurance for missionaries.
When you look at most of the Seven Wonders, there are plenty of stories — like when, at the height of the pandemic, an island nation refused to allow a cruise ship passenger with COVID to board a jet ICU plane, saying to the U.S., “We’re going to end up having to trade ventilators.” Honeycutt said.
A conversation with Mike Honeycutt. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you know how early you want to fly?
In high school, my senior year. I was trying to decide what to do. My father’s best friend grew up as a crop duster and (became an airline) pilot. He told me about his job, he worked 15 days a month, he traveled all over the world.
From there, I took my first entry flight and was hooked. I wanted to see the world.
How has the Jet ICU business changed?
I’ve been shipping for a while. That led me to fly three of the NASCAR teams around.
I started flying for a small air ambulance…they go anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. Being from a small town, I loved it. In six months, I was on four, maybe five continents. You can see some things. But it’s not a break by any means.
I saw the Great Wall from the air. That’s great.
I got hired by a small airline called Midway and (I did) miss it. A lot of people like the schedule, and for me, after the call, you pack your bags, you go to Berlin, that was fun. i miss.
(After 911, he returned to the Air Ambulance Company with early resentment. After it folded, he decided to start his own in 2003.)
There is something to be said about being young and ambitious. I have a friend in the insurance business who says, “It’s not impossible, it just takes a lot of time.
They were on their way to Jamaica two days after Christmas and came back. Is that last minute hustle too common?
That’s what we specialize in, long distance medical transport anywhere in the world. Ninety percent of our travel is urgent. We don’t have much of a plan. It’s the nature of the business.
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Medical (team members) tell me: time is tissue.
Did the patient in Jamaica do this?
He did. They hoped he would make a good recovery.
What’s the biggest deal – sick or injured passengers on cruise ships? As of 2011 Florida boy with rare brain-eating amoeba Did you fly to Chicago for care? Foreign tourists?
We do a lot of work with Canadians (who fly home on universal health care.) We do a lot with cruise lines … all kinds of medical emergencies. We premiere with Johns Hopkins (All Children’s Hospital) shipping multiple jobs. We have many children and everything.
On our trip out of Europe we met a 94 year old man. One of my nurses said, “Well, do you think you’re going to stop traveling now?” she asked him. He said, “What, am I going to sit on the porch and wait to die?” it has.
It was an eye-opener, a life-changer for me. He is correct.
Do you follow up with patients after your class?
We will work. We get a lot of comments (cards, notes, and most recently, a photo of a child in a stable condition in a hospital bed while curled up with his family in the Turks and Caicos.) Our nurses from patients and fellow travelers.
(After Honeycutt’s father heard that premature twins in Utah needed to get home to St. Petersburg, a jet flew them to the ICU.) Dad has been to two birthday parties (since then). We have been close to them.
This is a very rewarding business.
News reports have noted cases where Jet ICU transport was provided free of charge – for example, the family of A A University of South Florida student was injured in a car accident while visiting Cuba. In the year In 2015, she could not afford to fly home. (Recently the company for A A 12-year-old girl is the sole survivor of her family’s front-line disaster. (On vacation in Mexico in June.)
You know, we’re blessed. When we feel like jumping, we do. Tampa is my little town now. You help your neighbors.
Talk about an issue that sticks with you.
It’s too much.
She was the girl I flew with in ’98. She was 18, seriously ill. She had bone marrow cancer. They brought her in from Oslo for a new treatment they were trying. It didn’t work for her, so we were taking her home. (They had to divert, land, and go through customs on that flight.) She was very sick.
So we flipped her back. “I’m so sorry we had to stop,” I said. She said, “No – thank you. You are taking me home to die with my family.”
How many miles do you think you got?
Three times I circled the world eastwards. twice to the west. From a pilot perspective, most people don’t do this. I am blessed.
So, more miles than I remember.
It’s a great day to see the sunrise and sunset on the same day at 41,000 feet.
Is flying still fun?
it is. They say that if you do what you enjoy, you will never work a day in your life.