Fallen sick before a flight? Here's what to do
It’s the day before your flight. You’re all packed, you’ve got your passport, you’re ready to go. There’s just one tiny problem – you’ve fallen sick before your flight, you're sneezing non-stop, huddled in bed, overall just feeling miserable.
While falling sick before a flight isn’t something most travellers like to think about or prepare for, chances are it will happen at some point, especially if you’re a frequent traveller which makes you even more prone to catching a bug or two.
If you're travelling with children or elderly parents, you'll need to be extra wary of when they fall sick before flights, as they generally have weaker immune systems which may not respond well to cabin pressure changes, germ-happy lavatories and recirculated air in flights for extended hours.
So if you or one of your loved ones falls sick before a flight, how do you decide if you should board or cancel?
Most travellers prefer not to cancel their flights due to how costly tickets can be. But with a bad flu or fever, you might struggle to even get out of bed, let alone get on a flight with limited leg room, surrounded by 100 or so other people, especially for long-haul flights.
Plus, if you do cancel, there are steps you can take to minimise or even eliminate your financial loss from the airline tickets with the right travel insurance policy.
In other words, you won't need to fork up an additional amount if you want to save that beach vacation for when you feel much better and can actually enjoy it.
How do I know I'm too sick to fly?
If you’re still mulling over whether to get on that plane, you should be aware that some airlines have the right to refuse allowing you onboard if you’re experiencing certain illnesses.
And even if your airline does allow you onboard, certain conditions can be life-threatening when aggravated by cabin pressure, recirculated air, and a lack of ventilation.
So while you might be able to get away with something mild like a common cold, it's probably best to steer clear of flying when you're down with the following conditions:
An upset stomach is particularly uncomfortable to bring onboard a flight, especially if you're vomiting or experiencing diarrhoea. If it's a foodborne illness (maybe you ate something less than fresh), it may not be contagious to other passengers, but be warned, you can bet on it being an uncomfortable few hours that might not be worth the hassle.
A high fever of 38 degrees Celcius and above is an absolute no-go for any flight. Fevers can be a sign of a viral infection which can be contagious and put other flyers at risk of catching it.
You might be able to get away with flying with a fever if you manage to lower your temperature to a normal level, but tread with caution and use your best judgement. Ultimately, only you know your own body and whether it's still the beginning of the fever or whether you're on the mend and about to kick the illness.
Chest pain is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Angina, for instance, is a condition which involves chest pains which spread to the shoulders, neck and arms due to lack of blood supply.
Any condition which threatens the heart and could cause a cut-off blood supply needs to be treated ASAP, which means an airplane thousands of miles above ground is not an option.
Conditions which cause difficulty breathing
Certain conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia can make it harder to breathe normally. Once you're on a plane, the ratio of fresh to recirculated air is 50-50. If you're having trouble breathing on the ground with fresh air, chances are you might feel worse once you're up in your flight.
If you have a pre-existing condition like asthma, be sure to take the necessary precautions by bringing your inhaler and any medication you need onboard.
If you've undergone any major surgeries recently, take care not to affect your recovery process by boarding a flight. If you're really set on flying, make sure to check with your doctor if it's safe to fly in your condition. It never hurts to get the green light from a qualified professional who can make the assessment.
Highly contagious infections or illnesses
A flight involves being in extremely close quarters with other passengers in an enclosed space for hours on end. So it's no question of whether you should risk exposing others, including those with lower immune systems such as the elderly, to an infection or illness if you know it's particularly contagious.
Ever heard a baby or child crying on the descent of a plane? Flights involve rapidly increasing and decreasing cabin pressure which put pressure on the eardrums.
If you're travelling with an ear infection, pus and pressure is already present behind the eardrum and additional pressure could aggravate it, causing more pain. Not a pleasant feeling to endure for long flights.
What should I do if my child, parent or I are too sick to fly?
Sometimes it's not you who falls sick, but a parent or child. In these cases, it can be particularly dangerous to board a flight especially with very young children and elderly parents.
If you decide you, one of your children or parents really isn't up to boarding a flight, don't worry too much. There are ways to get reimbursed for your flight and travel expenses.
Just make sure to take the following steps:
Check if you're entitled to last-minute cancellations
While it might be a bit of a long shot, some airline carriers do offer free cancellation or postponements for a minimal fee if you've opted for a refundable flight ticket. Make sure to make arrangement with your airline as soon as possible to avoid any cut-off date for cancellations or postponements.
And as a note for your future self, you might want to consider booking refundable flights for more flexibility, especially if you travel with kids who are more prone to catching a cold or flu every now and then.
Call your travel insurance provider
Once you've decided that you're not up for a flight, call your travel insurance provider immediately and ask them what documentation you'll need to process a claim.
When submitting your documentation, be sure to have all your necessary documents on hand like your flight itinerary, flight receipts and medical certificate ready as proof to submit online via their website or via email.
You want to make sure you're as thorough as possible when collecting your documents and filling in any forms to avoid any delays in processing your claims.
Visit a doctor and get a medical certificate
You'll need a medical certification to prove you or your loved one is unfit to continue your trip. Also note that when you visit your doctor or GP, he or she may have to fill in some documentation for the claims forms required by your travel insurance provider.
Also, you may need your GP or specialist to certify that you did not have your illness or were not aware of it before booking your flight, as pre-existing illnesses are not covered by travel insurers.
Be sure to also contact your health insurance provider beforehand to see if there are any particular list of clinics or specialists to seek treatment from where you'll be covered for your expenses.
Follow up with your provider
A standard claim takes about 10 to 14 days to be processed once all documents are received, while some providers cover you as early as a day before your intended trip.
If your claim is taking a while to be paid out, or you haven't heard from your provider after a decent amount of time, don't hesitate to reach out to them again and follow up. There may be an issue with the claims documentation or processing which needs your attention.
While we all need a good vacation from time to time, if you're not feeling well enough, skip the flight, stay home and save your leave for when you can actually make the most of a trip. Don't worry, the right travel insurance policy's got you covered!