Home Tips and Tricks You’re Scheduled To Fly & You’re Sick. Now What?

You’re Scheduled To Fly & You’re Sick. Now What?

by SharonKurheg

We’re in the depths of cold and flu season right now and it seems like everyone is sick with something. If it’s not one of the various Omicron strains of Covid, it’s the flu. If it’s not the flu, it’s RSV or a cold.

If you’re sick and have a flight to catch, it can be a difficult situation. On one hand, medical professionals suggest not flying when you’re sick. Besides spreading your germs to everyone else, being in a dry, pressurized tin can for hours on end will only make you feel worse. But medical professionals also don’t take the realities of modern day travel into account:

  • Depending on circumstances, you may not be able to change your flight or get a refund
  • Americans’ PTO time is very limited and this may be the only time you can get away
  • You may be traveling for a special event and if you don’t go now, you’ll miss it

So yeah, it sounds good to say, “Don’t fly if you’re sick,” but it’s usually not a reality. Well, unless you feel as if you’re, like, almost dying.

Meanwhile, you have a flight in a couple of days and you just started feeling like crap. So what DO you do?

This is why you should always get travel insurance

Just sayin’ 😉

But seriously…

Get checked & get a prescription

If you just have a cold, you’re pretty much out of luck – you can take stuff to ease your symptoms, but you pretty much have to let the illness run its course. But if you have Covid or the flu, there are medications out there (Paxlovid for Covid, Tamiflu for the flu) that can help you feel better faster. Both Paxlovid and Tamiflu are available by prescription, which means you need to get tested (at a minute clinic, at a pharmacy that has a medical facility on site, etc.) to see which one you have, and then you can get the prescription.

Both Tamiflu and Paxlovid will only work if you’ve had symptoms for 48 hours or less. So get tested quickly. Also note that some people who take Paxlovid get “rebound” Covid, which means you test negative a few days after starting the medication, but then test positive again a few days after that. If that happens to you, if nothing else you have a few days of being OK.

Should you fly?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you not fly, or seek professional medical advice before traveling if you’re experiencing a fever of 100°F or higher or/and any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • A severe ear, sinus or nose infection
  • An infectious disease that’s easily transmissible
  • Noticeable signs of sickness, such as physical weakness
  • A skin rash or lesions
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent, severe cough
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Persistent vomiting that’s the result of your illness
  • Skin and eyes turning yellow or noticeable discoloration

Talk to the airline

Believe it or not, most (spoilers: but not all) of the airlines DO have policies about rescheduling or cancelling if you’re sick. The rules vary from airline to airline, what type of ticket your purchased, if you have Covid vs. another illness, the extent of your illness, etc. Here’s what they each say:

Of course, that’s assuming you’ve paid cash for your flight. If you’ve paid with miles, it’s a whole different ballgame.

You’re going to fly anyway

Maybe you don’t feel sick enough to stay home. Maybe the reason for travel is just too important. But you’ve decided to fly. Here’s what to do:

  • Wear a mask. Spreading your germs to other people, even if it’s “just a cold,” is a sucky thing to do. So if you’re sick, wear a mask while you’re in public (even if it’s “just” a cold), so you don’t give your cooties to everyone else.
    Bonus! Since planes tend to be very dry, wearing a mask will also help to maintain higher humidity in your oral and nasal passages. AND if you’re going somewhere where it’s cold, wearing a mask will make your nose and mouth feel warmer. 😉
  • Wash your hands. If you caught a cold, there’s a good chance it’s because someone with a cold blew their nose (or coughed/sneezed into their hands), didn’t wash their hands, and then touched something YOU then touched. And then you touched your eyes, nose or mouth, and that’s how the cold virus got into your body. Wash your hands (or at least use hand sanitizer) every hour or so, or any time you touch your face, to stop you from getting any more cooties, and as another way to stop your cooties from getting to other people.
  • Keep your nasal & middle ear passages as open as possible. This is especially important during takeoff and landing. Otherwise chances are your ears are going hurt like hell because of the pressure changes on the plane. So take an oral decongestant (like a 12-hour Sudafed) an hour or two before flying, and use these while on the plane.
  • Stay hydrated. Again, planes are super dry. If you’re not hydrated enough, it will make a sore throat feel worse, and could even make you feel lightheaded or faint. So drink lots of water (not alcohol – that only dries you out even more).
  • Take OTC meds for symptoms. As we said earlier, Sudafed will help with your congestion. Benadryl will help dry up your nose/sinuses. Cough syrup will decrease your cough. Also have plenty of cough drops, tissues and lip balm at the ready.
  • Wear a mask. Did I mention how important it is to wear a mask when you’re sick and out in public, so you don’t spread your germs?

Best laid plans

Heads up that airlines reserve the right to not allow you to fly if you appear to be very sick. They can and will refuse a passenger if the airline staff believe that you:

  • could be considered a potential safety hazard
  • might require medical attention during the flight
  • have a condition that might deteriorate during the flight, or could interfere with the comfort and welfare of the crew members or other passengers

Feel better soon!

Feature Photo (cropped): DaveDeploige / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

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