A Vancouver woman on a flight to Hawaii is angry at the way Air Canada staff treated her after she pricked her finger on a lancet left in the pouch of her seat.

Amielle Lake left Vancouver for Honolulu on Monday evening with her 15-month-old daughter for a week's vacation. During takeoff, Lake said, she was rummaging in the seat pocket when she felt a sharp prick.

She pulled her hand out and her finger was bleeding. What looked like a short needle — about 2.5 centimetres long — popped off her finger and into the aisle.

A nurse seated beside her told her the needle was a lancing device used by diabetics to prick the skin to draw a blood sample, which is then applied to a blood glucose test strip.

Inside the seat pocket was the rest of the lancing kit, including the glucose strip with a blood sample.

Nurse advises hospital consult

Lake said the nurse told her to take the lancet and strip to a hospital to test them for diseases.

But Lake said the Air Canada flight attendant confiscated them and the crew refused to give them to her when the flight landed in Honolulu.

"I found the process that Air Canada undertook and the way they dealt with the situation really, really upsetting," Lake said in an interview from Hawaii Wednesday.

She said flight attendants were helpful "at first," but, as the flight wore on, she felt they were more concerned about liability issues than Lake's well-being.

Air Canada lancet

Air Canada passenger Amielle Lake was pricked by this lancet while on a flight to Hawaii. (Courtesy of Damien Assonitis)

After the flight landed, Lake asked Air Canada crew what they intended to do with the needle and glucose strip. She told them she wanted to get it tested.

Air Canada staff wouldn't answer her question. Instead, she was handed a customer care number to phone.

Lake went to hospital in Honolulu that night for a tetanus shot and was told the chances of contracting an illness were very small. She was advised to undergo more tests when she returned home.

In a statement to CBC, Air Canada confirmed the incident, describing it as "exceptionally rare" and "troubling." 

Air Canada understands passenger's 'distress'

"We understand our customer's distress on coming into contact with it," spokeswoman Angela Mah wrote, suggesting the airline kept the lancet for safety reasons.

Mah wrote that Air Canada has a "detailed protocol" for these kinds of incidents. "Our standard safety procedures are being correctly followed to ensure the lancet remains secured to prevent further injury and contamination."

Mah said it was unfortunate that the person who first used the lancet did not dispose of it safely.

Air Canada staff advised Lake to seek medical care once the flight landed in Honolulu, Mah said, and "we remain in contact with her."

Lake said she disagreed with Air Canada's assertion that it was following protocol.

Rather, she said, it appeared airline crew members were unsure what to do and preoccupied with liability issues.

The lancet should have been removed before passengers were loaded, Lake noted.

Lake, who is an entrepreneur, said she's always thinking of "the customer experience," and thinks the flight crew and staff on the ground didn't show sufficient concern.

"I felt like there is this fear of liability that was more important than my own well-being," Lake said.

'Obstructionist communications'

Lake's husband, Damien Assonitis, agrees Air Canada seemed more concerned about its legal liability than his wife's health.

Assonitis said he dealt with multiple Air Canada agents from around midnight until 3 p.m. PT the next day. He then went to Vancouver International Airport to try to speak with a manager about whether the airline had tested the lancet and the results.

"I was quite upset because time was of the essence," he said. 

"It was just obstructionist communications. Nothing was communicated to us over a very long night and a long day."

Throughout that time, Assonitis said, he was offered conflicting information, including one Air Canada agent who told him one of the airline's medical officers had cleared the lancet for release.

He said another agent told him it was being tested in B.C.

Testing not possible

Eventually, a manager accompanied by a security guard told him they had tried to get the lancet tested, but the airline had been informed it wouldn't be possible. 

Assonitis said the manager offered him a flight to Honolulu to be with his wife, but he couldn't go because of work. 

Air Canada told CBC its protocols include consulting with the company's "highly-trained medical staff" and consulting with "third party medical experts." 

"[They] advised that the most effective step to take in such circumstances is for the individual to get tested themselves as a precaution, and that laboratory testing of a lancet is not an effective means to determine possible contaminants," said Mah. 

Dr. Mel Krajden, with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, confirmed that testing the lancet would not produce reliable results. 

He also said less than one per cent of people in B.C. have blood-based diseases like HIV or hepatitis B or C, and the risk of transmission in a case such as this is very low.

"These kind of incidents where someone gets jabbed by a lancet are very traumatizing to a person," he said. 

"I think having a conversation with this kind of information usually calms them."