All About Flying With A Cold – Safety, Protection, Kids, Refunds & More

Almost everyone has had to fly when they’re sick. It makes an uncomfortable situation even more miserable but you usually get through it OK.

However there are always questions about flying when you have a cold. Should you? Shouldn’t you? What can people do to not be miserable when flying with a cold? What if you’re flying while sick and have kids with you? Can you ask for a refund or reschedule until you feel better? Hopefully this post will help answer a lot of these questions.

Is it safe to fly with a cold? What if it’s the flu?

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via U.S. Center for Disease Control

If all you have is a typical minor cold – some congestion, aches, sneezing, coughing and maybe fatigue – and if you’re generally a healthy person when you’re not sick, flying with a cold should be safe. That being said, if you’ve been sick for several days and over-the-counter meds aren’t helping, or if there’s the possibility that you have more than “just a cold,” such as being diagnosed with an infection or or if you think it may be the flu, it’s probably not safe to fly. It’s just going to make you feel worse and, quite frankly, you’re putting other people, especially those with weakened immune systems (including people who are simply very old or very young), at risk for catching whatever you have.

What can be done about cold symptoms on a plane?

  • EARS – The first thing that comes to mind are how much your ears are going to bother you because of the pressure changes on your sinuses (your ears and sinuses are all interconnected – that’s why there are medical specialists who focus on Ears, Nose & Throat). There’s a product called Ear Planes that are flexible tubes you can put in your ears so the pressure change is more gradual, which can help with the pain. Here’s more info about them.
  • SINUSES – Because of the interconnections mentioned above, your ears hurt when you have a cold on a plane because your sinuses are clogged. Taking a decongestant (with your MD’s OK and according to the box labels) can help with the congestion you feel due to inflamed sinuses from being sick.
  • COUGHING/SNEEZING – Excessive coughing and/or sneezing makes you feel even more fatigue because both, in excess, are a strain on your body. They’re also both major way that your germs can get spread throughout the plane (along with touching your eye, nose or mouth and then items on the plane). So consider over-the-counter medications to make them stop for a while. Depending on what you will be doing when you land, you may not want to take something that will make you feel sleepy. Which brings us to…
  • FATIGUE – Being on a plane is probably one of the best things for fatigue, because you’re forced to stay still ;-). Enjoy your “however many hours” on the plane and get some of the sleep your body needs to heal.

What about flying while sick and kids are in tow?

If flying with a cold is bad, flying with kids while you have a cold is even worse. Bottom line is that kids don’t care if Mommy or Daddy feel like crap. Now, if they’re old enough, hopefully you’ve brought enough stuff to keep them occupied and they can understand to leave you alone ;-). But if they’re toddlers or younger? Nuh-uh. If you’re lucky, the flight will coincide with nap time. If you’re not, well, make sure to bring lots of favorite toys to maintain their interest, and some new ones to keep them occupied too. And if that doesn’t work, don’t feel guilty about pulling out the tablet and headphones and letting him/her/them watch cartoons and movies so you can get as much quiet time as possible.

Some people might suggest giving the child(ren) some Benadryl or something else to make them sleep during the flight. Some people might suggest that’s a horrible idea. We are decidedly neutral on that idea. Your Mileage May Vary. 😉

If someone’s sick, can (s)he get a refund from the airline, or reschedule due to illness?

Well, I guess it could happen…but don’t hold your breath. I mean, if all the people who were sick asked for and got refunds, airlines would have to start considering bankruptcy, y’know?

True, Southwest will always allow you to reschedule a flight, and you only have to pay the difference in fare, if applicable. Other than that, IF you were sick enough to need to be hospitalized (and showed proof of same), maybe some airlines would take pity on you. If you were sick enough to go to a doctor and get a note that said you weren’t medically able to fly, I’d think your chances are not as good as being hospitalized, but I guess it’s worth a shot, just in case. But if it’s just a run-of-the-mill cold, no, don’t expect to be able to get a refund or reschedule (except on the aforementioned Southwest). But this is a good situation to reinforce how important medical insurance, either through through your credit card or purchased separately, is.

Feel better!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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