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Flying with a Chest Infection Cold or Flu

When you’ve got the sniffles with a hacking cough and are aching all over, swapping flying for a comfy bed and soothing hot drink is an incredibly appealing option.

However, with your tickets printed, your suitcases packed, and your taxi transfer booked, opting out of your short or long haul travel plans because of a common illness doesn’t feel like a choice at all.  

Whether you’re feeling under the weather or have a chest infection, you should still think seriously about your fitness to fly and always consult your doctor before you head off to the airport.

Can I fly with a chest infection?

Yes, you can fly with a chest infection.  But there are a few things to think long and hard about before you buckle up your seat belt and checkout the inflight magazine.

Think about the cabin.

Planes circulate an oxygen supply throughout the cabin, but – because the cabin is pressurised, it can affect how much oxygen is absorbed by your body. If you have low blood oxygen readings because of a chest infection, you could experience difficulties with breathing once you’re on board.

Think about your comfort.

If you’re travelling long haul with a chesty cough you’re unlikely to rest properly, placing additional strain on your body and leaving you feeling exhausted. Make sure you stay hydrated and carry any medication like antibiotics or inhalers with you to keep you as comfortable as possible.

Think about other passengers.  

If your chest infection is caused by a contagious virus or bacteria, fellow flyers are at risk of catching it too. Disease can spread through direct touch, a sneeze, or a cough, or via contaminated objects like used tissues or eating and drinking utensils.

If you can, avoid travelling until you fully recovered for the benefit of the people around you, otherwise do all you can to prevent the spread of germs on-flight.

Can I fly with pneumonia?

Yes, it is possible to fly with pneumonia, however, your doctor may advise you to postpone your travel plans until you’re feeling better.

Pneumonia is a type of lung infection. As well as shortness of breath and strenuous coughing, sufferers may also experience fever and chills. It can be a difficult condition to recover from. Doctors may prescribe medication such as antibiotics to treat the infection, with the recommendation to rest to promote a speedy and full recovery.

If you do decide to fly with pneumonia, there are a few things to take into consideration before you board the plane.

How contagious are you?

If you have viral pneumonia there is a risk you could pass the virus to other passengers until the infection has run its course. Bacterial pneumonia treated with antibiotics is less likely to spread. Depending on the type of pneumonia infection, delaying your trip could help to keep those around you free from an upper respiratory infection.

How well are you feeling? Seek advice from a medical professional and decide whether you’re feeling fit enough to fly. Think about how you’ll manage any coughing and discomfort on the flight too, for example, ensuring you have access to medication and can stay properly hydrated.

Because pneumonia infections can affect your breathing, exposure to a pressurised cabin could make it even more difficult. Think about the distress this would cause to you, your fellow passengers, and the cabin crew.

Can I fly with bronchitis?

Again, it is possible to fly with bronchitis, but you must be aware of how flying in a plane could impact on the symptoms related to this type of infection.  

It’s highly recommended you get advice from a medical professional who can tell you more about your condition and how best to manage it, which may include the recommendation to delay your holiday.  

Bronchitis is an infection that causes inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs, and can be categorised as either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis stems from a short term infection that inflames the airway temporarily. Sufferers may present with shortness of breath, coughing, a sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, aches and pains, and fatigue. Acute bronchitis usually clears up on its own, but increasing fluid intake and getting lots of rest is advised to aid recovery.

Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s diagnosed when individuals have experienced a productive cough for at least three months of the year for at least two years in a row.

If you do decide to fly with bronchitis, it’s best to be aware that the pressurised air on a plane can contribute to breathing difficulties.  Bronchitis could also develop into pneumonia, so it’s best to be as prepared for this as much as possible.

Can I fly with a cold?

Yes, you can fly with a cold. The common cold is not a severe condition, so flying shouldn’t be a problem or put you at risk of worsening your condition.

The cold virus, however, is highly contagious and travelling in the enclosed space of an aircraft will leave other people on the flight-prone to infection.

Try to prevent the spread of infectious inflight germs by:

  • Washing your hands more often to remove germs that can be spread by touch, especially after coming into contact with your nose or mouth
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Throwing away used tissues immediately
  • Carrying and using antibacterial hand gel or cleanser, especially if hand washing isn’t easy to access

When flying with a cold, you’re likely to feel a little uncomfortable. In your carry-on bag, keep a supply of tissues and any medications you’ll need to relieve or treat your symptoms, such as pain relief, throat lozenges, or decongestant remedies.

It will also be helpful to keep your water intake up to prevent dehydration.

Flying with the flu

Yes, you can fly with the flu, but once again, you might want to reconsider your travel itinerary if you’re feeling too unwell to travel.

The influenza virus, like the common cold, is also highly infectious and can present with more severe symptoms compared to a cold, such as fever, body aches, fatigue, sore throat and coughing, headache, nausea and diarrhoea.

Sitting on a flight with any of these symptoms is likely to be uncomfortable, especially if you’re flying long haul.

If you do decide to fly with flu symptoms, the pressurised cabin may make them feel worse.  Make sure you stay hydrated, are stocked up with any medicines you might need, and take precautions to prevent the spread of infection throughout the aircraft as much as possible.

Again, there is always the possibility that you might pass it on, so it might be worth postponing your trip and travelling when you’re feeling better in future.

Cancelling your trip

If you’ve booked a holiday abroad, but when the time comes to fly you feel unwell, you may worry about cancelling your plans and feel tempted to persevere with the flight.

Arranging travel insurance in advance of your trip will offer protection if you are too unwell to make the flight. If your chest infection, cold, or flu affects your ability to fly leaving you to cancel your holiday, you can make a claim on the cancellation cover included in your travel insurance policy.

If you decide to travel despite your chest infection, cold, or flu symptoms, you can arrange specialist cover for any pre-existing conditions to ensure you and your getaway are fully protected.

Specialist travel insurance will allow you to claim for any medical intervention or treatment you might need when you’re abroad in relation to any medical conditions you’ve declared before your holiday.

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