sick while flying

Flying while sick: when to stay home and when to board the plane

Should you fly or stay put?

Are you starting to snivel just before boarding? Or do you have the common cold or flu? In this article, we address the question of whether you can fly when you are not feeling well.

If you are unwell and have no desire to fly, it is your decision whether or not to cancel your flight. Does every fiber in your body warn you that a 10-hour flight to the United States is a bad idea? Do yourself a favour and avoid boarding the flight.

Postpone or cancel flight

Some airlines will give you the option of postponing your flight for up to 30 days before departure, if you can prove you aren’t feeling well. You may also be able to take out travel cancellation insurance to cover you in the event of illness. If you have a medical emergency, you can cancel your trip free of charge with a medical certificate from your doctor.

Alternatively, you can choose not to fly without cancelling your flight, also called a no-show. A no-show is when a passenger does not show up for their flight without prior notification to the airline.

This can result in you being blacklisted and banned from flying in the future, so it is important to let the airline know if you are unable to fly. In addition, some airlines may impose a fine on you for this reason.

Pilot is responsible for passengers

Ultimately, the decision to drive to the airport, and fly is the passenger’s. But once on board, the pilot has a responsibility to ensure the welfare of all passengers. This includes not only the safe operation of the aircraft but also the protection of passengers from serious illness or injury.

If, in the opinion of the pilot or crew, a passenger is a danger to themselves or others, for example because of a risk of infection, the passenger will not be allowed to board.

A cold, fever and stomach problems

Normally, a common cold is not a reason to avoid a flight. As a cold poses little risk, the flight crew will generally not turn away a person with a cold.

In most cases, flying with a cold does not pose a problem to your own health either. However, your ears may feel denser than usual. Swallow hard or pinch your nose and blow through your nose to check for the ‘popping’ sound in your ears.

Do you have a fever? Most airports no longer take your temperature, so you can board the plane without any problems.  However, it is important to remember that flying can be strenuous and may not be the best way to deal with a fever. Rest is often the best remedy, but this can be challenging during a flight.

When returning from an exotic destination, the chances of experiencing stomach problems are higher than usual. Think of the famous “Bali belly”, the street food of India or the spicy dishes of Thai cuisine. Stomach problems can be uncomfortable for both you and your fellow passengers because the plane has a limited number of toilets.

During take-off, descent and turbulence, toilets are inaccessible. If you have a gastro-intestinal infection, it can be spread if there are a lot of people sharing the lavatory, and frequent visits to the lavatory can be a major cause of dehydration.

Dehydration is another problem with an upset stomach. The problem is made worse by the dry air on a plane.

Ear infection

Air pressure changes as an aircraft takes off and descends, and this often causes discomfort in passengers’ ears. This is due to the pressure difference between the air in the ear and the airplane. The different pressure causes the familiar “pop” sound when the air in the ear escapes through the auditory canal.

Inflammation and fluid build-up in the ear due to an infection can also have an effect on the so-called Eustachian tube. If the tube is too narrow or there is too much fluid, air cannot flow in and out of the ear so well.

Flying while being seriously ill

If you are seriously ill, it is better to cancel or postpone your trip. However, if you have to fly back to your home country, the situation may be more complicated. In such cases, it may be preferable for you to be close to your family and friends, even if you are not well enough to travel.

You may need to provide an Fit-To-Fly statement to prove your condition. Many airlines require a Fit-to-Fly statement in cases where you are seriously ill. An FTF statement is a written statement from a doctor or medical practitioner confirming that you are fit to fly.

If you do not have this statement, you risk being denied boarding. If you have any visible injuries or are accompanied by someone who must assist you, ground staff may ask to see a statement when you check in.

For shorter distances, travelling by train or car may be preferable as it avoids the dry air and changing air pressure of a plane, as well as reducing the risk of infection.

In some cases, however, repatriation may be the best option, especially for longer journeys. This means that you will fly under the supervision of a doctor and with medical equipment on board.

Either way, we recommend you contact your travel insurance company. In addition, conditions may vary from airline to airline. If you are unsure whether you can travel, please contact the airline.

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