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Should You Fly When You Are Unwell?

Working and travelling overseas can often involve frequent air travel. Whilst sickness and injury can strike at any time, when you are due to fly it can be somewhat inconvenient. From a common cold to more serious health conditions, the question often arises as to whether you can in fact travel on board an aircraft when you are unwell.  Moreover, if you can, are there any increased risks in doing so.

In short, it greatly depends on the specific circumstances, illness and airline. However, there are some general guidelines to be aware of  which will help you to make the best decision based on your own situation.

Airline flying restrictions

It’s not uncommon to catch a cold after a flying in an aircraft. Cabin pressure together with a large volume of people in a confined space with recirculated air, provides the perfect storm for being susceptible to colds and viruses. Not to mention the fact that flying with a chest infection and high fever can be a quite an unpleasant experience.

As such, airlines often prefer for passengers not to travel when they are unwell. Whilst airline regulations vary, they do all hold the right to refuse passengers they believe to be unfit to travel in an aircraft. They may also seek medical clearance if a passenger appears to be suffering from an unstable medical condition.

Air travel refusal

Flying with a cold is not likely to pose a huge risk to either you or the airline. Yet, there are more serious medical conditions which can be aggravated by air travel and indeed can be significantly worsened during a flight – for example, the cabin pressure effects on a person suffering from a sinus infection can exacerbate symptoms and prolong recovery time.

An airline can and do refuse travel to passengers they suspect may be contagious. Even if you are recovering from a recent infectious disease, for example chicken pox – you may be required to provide a letter from a doctor confirming you are no longer infectious.

As a general rule, air travel should be avoided in you are experiencing or recently had any of the following:

  • chest pain or angina
  • sinus infection
  • chronic respiratory conditions
  • sickle cell anemia
  • brain, eye or gastrointestinal surgery
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • decompression sickness
  • unmediated psychosis
  • active infectious disease (this includes influenza)

In addition, flying whilst in the 36th week of pregnancy is not advisable and infants less than 2 days old should not be taken on board an aircraft.

If you are in any doubt, the best course of action would be to contact the airline’s medical advice department. This way, you can be sure where you stand.

Reducing risk

Whilst it is tempting to travel regardless  and  in an attempt to avoid losing money on your flights, with a sufficient health and travel insurance policy, you may have more options than you think. Ensure you check your policy as you may be able to claim in the event of an unforeseen situation, which results in you being unable to fly.

If you are experiencing a fever, a cough and blocked sinuses, and you are just not sure if you should be travelling, it is advisable to explore all of the possibilities. This may include changing the date of your flight or making the decision to cancel it altogether.

Moreover, a fever is usually a sign of infection and symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea may mean you are contagious. If you have the flu virus, you can be contagious for up to 3 to 5 days, this makes passing your illness onto your fellow passengers highly likely.

Ultimately when you are feeling unwell, a visit to the doctor is probably the best course of action – for both you and others.

For those of you with scheduled surgeries, be sure to plan ahead and seek advice on what you can and can’t do after your operation.

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