DOZENS of medical conditions can stop you from travelling by plane.
This might be because you’re infectious and could spread your illness to other passengers, or you are potentially in danger yourself.
Dozens of medical conditions can prevent you from travelling by plane[/caption]
Whatever the reason, it is important to alert the airline you plan to fly with to ensure it’s safe to do so.
You may be refused boarding if staff are concerned your condition might worsen while in the air, or if you could impact fellow flyers.
According to Fit For Travel, run by the NHS, air travel is not normally advised in the following cases:
- Babies less than 48 hours old (longer after premature births)
- Women after the 36th week of pregnancy (or 32nd week for multiple pregnancy)
- Angina or chest pain at rest
- An infectious disease (e.g. chickenpox, flu or Covid-19)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Recent heart attack
- Recent stroke
- Recent operation or injury where trapped air or gas may be present in the body (e.g. stomach, bowel, eyes, face or brain)
- Severe, long-term diseases that affect your breathing (e.g. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Breathlessness at rest
- Sickle cell anaemia
- Unresolved pneumothorax (punctured lung)
- Ear infection
- Decompression sickness after diving (sometimes called ‘the bends’)
- Increased pressure in the brain (due to bleeding, injury or infection)
- Plaster casts applied within 24 hours for flights less than two hours, or 48 hours for longer flights
- Unstable mental health or psychotic illness
Restrictions vary between airlines, so always seek advice directly.
Some may require medical clearance in the form of a ‘fit to fly’ certificate, the Aviation Health Unit of the Civil Aviation Authority says.
You should also contact your GP or other specialist before you book a flight.
The World Health Organization states: “Airlines have the right to refuse to carry passengers with conditions that may worsen, or have serious consequences, during the flight.
“They may require medical clearance from their doctor if there is an indication that a passenger could be suffering from any disease or physical or mental condition that could be a hazard to the safety of the aircraft, reduce the welfare and comfort of the other passengers and crew members, require medical attention during the flight, or may be aggravated by the flight.
“If cabin crew suspect before departure that a passenger may be ill, the aircraft’s captain will be informed and a decision taken as to whether the passenger is fit to travel, needs medical attention or presents a danger to other passengers and crew or to the safety of the aircraft.
“Airline policies vary and requirements should always be checked at the time of, or before, booking the flight.
“A good place to find information is often the airline’s own website.”
What is medical clearance?
BEFORE jetting off on holiday, your airline may ask you for proof of your ‘fitness to fly’.
If you have a stable condition, there is generally no need to be cleared for travel.
There are usually two parts to the medical clearance process:
- You will be asked to provide information about your situation or condition and, for many passengers, this will be all you will need to complete.
- If the airline has concerns about how flying might impact your particular condition, it will ask you to complete a further form.
You may also be asked to provide medical proof at this stage, often a doctor’s note.
Most airlines have medical advisors who provide advice and “clear” passengers as fit to fly.
The key information that they require is:
- The nature of the individual’s condition and its severity/stability
- Medication being taken
- Any pertinent information about mobility
Most clearances can be done online or over the phone.
The final decision whether or not to carry a passenger is that of the airline, but the more information that is provided in advance, the more likely it is that a reasonable, evidence based decision can be made.
Source: Aviation Health Unit of the Civil Aviation Authority
There are several other health matters to consider when flying both short- and long-haul.
These centre around the conditions inside the aircraft, and what you might need to bring on board to deal with them.
Many airports offer assistance services for those who have disabilities, but most need to be booked in advance.
It is also important to alert your airline of any special requirements as cabin crew are not allowed to assist passengers who are unable to look after their own physical needs (e.g. using the toilet, eating or mobility), Fit for Travel says.
If you use a mobility aid, such as an electric scooter or wheelchair, you will need to provide your airline with details (such as make, model, size and weight) when you book.
“If you are healthy and your pregnancy has been straightforward, then air travel is generally considered safe,” Fit for Travel says.
But you should seek medical advice before doing so.
Airlines usually request a certificate from pregnant passengers if travelling after 28 weeks.
This should include your estimated delivery date and confirm your pregnancy is uncomplicated and progressing normally.
Most firms do not allow air travel after 36 weeks for a single pregnancy, or 32 for multiple.
The risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is increased in pregnancy so sensible precautions should be taken, such as compression stockings.
Experiencing altitude sickness during flights is uncommon, but some people with lung heart conditions may need to use oxygen to cope.
You must arrange this in advance of your flight and contact your GP.
High altitude is generally considered to be 8,000ft (2,400m) and above.
Aircraft cabins are kept at a pressure roughly equivalent to between 5,900ft (1,800m) and 8,000ft (2,400m).
If you are unwell, you should wait until you have fully recovered to travel – particularly if you have a fever, Fit for Travel says.
While there is a low risk of infectious diseases being transmitted on board, it can happen.
Airline staff can deny boarding of any passenger who looks unwell, especially if they suspect they might be infectious.
“If you have recently recovered from an infectious disease, but are still showing physical signs of being unwell, for example crusted spots following chicken pox, then you should carry a letter from a GP confirming that you are no longer infectious,” Fit for Travel says.
“If someone has already travelled and is then found to have a serious infectious illness (such as measles or Covid-19) which could be a potential risk to other passengers, then contact tracing of passengers will be carried out by local public health authorities.”