Flying with a cold or flu

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Please note: If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, please get tested for COVID-19 before you head towards the airport for your flight.

At Alternative Airlines, we advise that you complete a PCR test within 48 hours before your flight as it's now a travel requirement for most airlines and governments.

For more COVID-19 Travel Advice, please visit our COVID-19 Travel Advice page for more information.

Flying with a Cold

Flights are usually booked at least weeks, if not months, in advance. Being struck with a cold just before flying can add extra stress, as it's not a pleasant experience. But we're here to help! Discover airline policies, top tips and FAQs about flying with a cold or the flu!

Flying with a cold or the flu

Flying can cause cold or flu symptoms to worsen and the experience can be very unpleasant; however, there are simple steps that can be taken to help make flying more bearable. Check out our top tips to help you feel more comfortable when flying with a cold.

Quick Take-Away Points

1. In most instance, it is safe for passengers to fly with symptoms associated with the common cold

2. For more moderate to severe conditions, check in with your doctor ensure it is safe for you to fly

3. Be aware that an airline can stop passengers who appear to be very sick from flying, so check with your airline that you will be allowed to fly - more information below!

Everything you Need to Know about Flying with a Cold or the Flu

What causes a cold?

A cold, or 'common cold', is an upper respiratory tract infection which can be caused by a number of different viruses. The cold is transmitted by virus-infected airborne droplets or through direct contact with infected bodily secretions. The common cold is a self-limited disease which can cause discomfort. Common symptoms include a bad cough, agitated sinuses, a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. Over the counter medication can help relieve symptoms.

What causes the flu?

The flu is caused by influenza viruses that can infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms can include headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, dry coughs, chills, a sore throat, a runny nose, fatigue or nasal congestion. The flu is also transmitted by virus-infected airborne droplets or through direct contact with infected bodily secretions. Treatment can include antiviral medicine which help reduce symptoms.

Is it safe to fly with a cold or the flu?

In most cases, it is safe to travel if fighting a mild cold; however, the experience may be uncomfortable. When you're in a plane, especially during take off and landing, the external air pressure (the pressure outside your sinuses and middle ear) changes more rapidly than your internal air pressure (the pressure inside your sinuses and inner ear). This can result in symptoms including pain, dizziness, congested sinuses, or dulled hearing.

Symptoms can be worse if you have existing respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma.

When should I postpone travel due to a cold or flu?

Nobody wants to miss out on a trip they've been looking forward to, and it can be a very tough decision to postpone or change your plans. However, authoritative bodies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US and the NHS in the UK sets out the following guidelines to help you decide whether you are fit to travel. It is recommended that you do not fly, or seek professional medical advice before travelling, if you are experiencing a combination of a fever of 100°F (37.7°C) upwards 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 a shortness of breath

Persistent, severe cough

Persistent diarrhoea

Persistent vomiting that’s the result of your sickness

Skin and eyes turning yellow or noticeable discolouration

The right to deny boarding

Can an airline stop passengers with a cold or flu from flying?

It is important to note that an airline has the right to refuse a passenger if staff believe that the passenger meets the following conditions: if the passenger could be considered a potential safety hazard, might require medical attention during the flight, has a condition that might deteriorate during the flight, or could interfere with the comfort and welfare of the crew members or other passengers.

This still applies to those who believe that have recovered from an illness, including as a severe cold or flu, but still show obvious signs of being unwell.

If you are worried that you or someone you are travelling with might be denied boarding, you should carry a letter from your GP that confirms that you are fit to travel. It is also important to contact your airline beforehand to seek medical advice, as every airline has different policies regarding the right to deny boarding.

Top Tips for flying with a cold

Practical advice to help make flying with a cold bearable

It is crucial to contact your airline before heading to the airport, as rules and policies vary. Some airlines will insist on seeing a fit-to-fly note from a doctor.

To help you understand the rule of some of the major airlines, we have composed a list with an overview of their policies.

1. Stay Hydrayted

If you have a cold, it is important to stay hydrated! This will be important to helping to stop the Eustachian tube from drying up. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, and sip lots of room temperature water. Green tea or lemon can also be very soothing.

2. Pack Gum

Chew gum or hard candy during your flight, especially during take off and landing, to help equalize pressure. Moving your jaw and swallowing can help open the Eustachian tube and help change the pressure in your throat.

3. Carry Medication

Take decongestant which contains pseudoephedrine (such as Sufafed) 30 minutes before takeoff. Carry medication in your carry-on allowance. A full guide on travelling with medication can be found here.

4. Practice Good Wellbeing

Make sure you pack tissues and any other items that might help you travel more comfortably, such as cough drops and lip balm. It is important to keep stretching to help relax your muscles. Check out our full guide to wellbeing on a flight.

Flying with a Cold

How do I stop clogged ears?

One of the major challenges when flying with a cold is the likelihood of experiencing clogged ears. This is especially true during take off and landing. The Eustachian tube connect the inner ear with the back of the throat and works to balance the pressure between the outside air and your body. When the cabin pressure in the plane changes, these tubes will, usually, work to keep your inner pressure stabilised. However, if you have a cold, mucus membranes can swell or become irritated, making it harder for air to escape your ears. This can lead to discomfort and the sensation of having 'clogged' ears.

Doctors suggest that passengers use a decongestant before boarding, which helps reduce the swelling in the mucus membrane and makes it easier for air to move through the tubes.

There are also earplugs that are made especially for flying which you might also find helpful. These plugs have filters that help the ears adjust to changing pressure in a plane cabin.

Top Tip: More advice can also be found in our guide to airplane headaches.

Can I cancel my flights due to sickness?

Sadly, an airline might not be sympathetic about your last-minute need to cancel your flight due to the onset of sickness. Whether you receive a refund will depend on the terms and conditions of your flight ticket. In some cases, it might help your chances to get a sick note from your doctor stating that you are not fit to fly, although it depends on the rules of each airline.

If you have booked your flights through Alternative Airlines, you can contact our customer service team for more information regarding the cancellation policy of your airline ticket. You can also choose to use the 'Refundable Flights' filter so that you know whether you are booking refundable tickets - but again, check the terms and conditions as there may be time periods for cancellation etc.