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What to do if you fall sick before a flight            

If you fall sick before a flight and have to cancel your trip, here's how travel insurance can help

Are you feeling sick before a flight? You’re all packed, and you’re ready to go. There’s just one tiny problem – you’ve fallen sick before your flight.

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.

If you’re travelling with children or elderly parents, you’ll need to be extra wary of when they fall sick before flights. This is because children and seniors 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.

Most travellers prefer not to cancel their flights due to how costly tickets can be. But with the nasty flu or fever, you might struggle to get out of bed, let alone get on a flight with little leg room. More importantly, with the current COVID-19 situation, you might not even be able to travel if you are exhibiting severe symptoms.

If you cancel, you can minimise or even eliminate your financial loss with the right travel insurance policy. We’ll look at how you can do so.

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How do I know I’m too sick to fly?

airplane cabin with passengers seated

If you’re still mulling over whether to get on that plane, you should be aware that some airlines have the right to refuse to allow you on board if you’re experiencing certain illnesses.

Besides, certain conditions can be life-threatening when aggravated by cabin pressure, recirculated air, and a lack of ventilation.

So it’s probably best to steer clear of flying when you’re down with the following conditions:

COVID-19 symptoms

Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever and cough. While most countries do not require a negative COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated travellers, you should delay travelling even if you have a negative COVID-19 test. If you are doing a layover and feel sick before your transit flight, airport personnel will likely request a medical examination and, if necessary, a COVID-19 test.

Should you test positive, the process might differ based on the country where you are currently in transit. So if you are doing a long-haul flight which requires layovers, do enquire about the COVID-19 guidelines for each country. Also, check with your travel insurer on what to do if you are COVID-19 positive while travelling.

Stomach upset

An upset stomach is particularly uncomfortable to bring on board a flight, especially if you’re vomiting or experiencing diarrhoea.


A high fever of 38 degrees Celsius 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. As mentioned above, it can also be a sign of COVID-19.

Chest pain

Chest pain is a severe 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 a lack of blood supply.

Any condition that threatens the heart and could cause a cut-off blood supply needs to be treated quickly.

Conditions which cause difficulty breathing

Certain conditions like bronchitis and pneumonia can make it harder to breathe normally. Also, once on a plane, the ratio of fresh to recirculated air is 50-50. So if you’re having trouble breathing on the ground with fresh air, you might feel worse once you’re on your flight.

If you have a pre-existing condition like asthma, take the necessary precautions by bringing your inhaler and any medication you need on board.

a doctor

Recent surgeries

If you’ve undergone any major surgeries recently, take care not to affect your recovery process by boarding a flight. Always check with your doctor if it’s safe to fly in your condition.

Highly contagious infections or illnesses

A flight involves being in close quarters with other passengers in an enclosed space for hours. So you should not risk exposing others, including those with lower immune systems such as the elderly, to an infection or illness.

Ear infections

Ever heard a baby or child crying on the descent of a plane? Flights involve rapidly increasing and decreasing cabin pressure which puts pressure on the eardrums.

If you’re travelling with an ear infection, pus and pressure are already behind the eardrum. Additional pressure could aggravate it, causing more pain.

What should I do if my child, parent or I am sick before a flight?

Elderly man who is sick

Sometimes it’s not you who falls sick, but a parent or child. In these cases, boarding a flight can be particularly dangerous, especially with very young children and elderly parents.

If you decide any of you aren’t up to boarding a flight, there may be ways to get reimbursed for your flight and travel expenses.

Just make sure to take the following steps:

Step 1. Check if you’re entitled to last-minute cancellations.

    • Some airline carriers offer free cancellation or postponements for a minimal fee if you opt for a refundable flight ticket.
    • Make arrangements with your airline as soon as possible to avoid any cut-off date for cancellations or postponements.

Step 2. Call your travel insurance provider.

    • Once you’ve decided you’re not up for a flight, call your travel insurance provider immediately and check if insurance will cover your circumstances for trip cancellation or postponement. Ask what documentation you’ll need to claim if covered.
    • When submitting your documentation, be sure to have all your necessary documents on hand (for example, flight itinerary, flight receipts and medical certificate), ready as proof to submit online via its website or email.
    • You want to ensure you’re as thorough as possible when collecting your documents and filling in any forms to avoid delays in processing your claim.

Step 3. Visit a doctor and get a medical certificate.

    • You’ll need medical certification to prove you, or your loved one is unfit to continue your trip. When you visit your doctor or GP, they may have to fill in some documentation for your travel insurance claim forms.
    • You may need your GP or specialist to certify that you did not have your illness or were unaware of it before booking your flight, as travel insurers do not cover pre-existing illnesses.
    • Be sure to contact your health insurance provider beforehand to see if there is any particular list of clinics or specialists to seek treatment from where you’ll be covered for your expenses.

Step 4. Follow up with your provider.

    • A standard claim may take about 10-14 days to be processed once all documents are received, while some providers cover you as early as a day before your intended trip.
  • Consider booking refundable flights for more flexibility.
    • Refundable flights might cost more, but can be worth it, especially if you travel with kids who are more prone to catching a cold or flu now and then.

Should I buy travel insurance in case I fall sick before a flight?

Travel insurance is advisable if you need to cancel or postpone your flight. Even if you do not fall sick before a flight, you will need travel insurance for your destination. Or else you might incur unnecessary medical expenses, which will make your trip very unpleasant.

Most travel insurers now include trip postponement and cancellation due to the COVID-19 situation. Do check the policy details to ensure it provides sufficient coverage for any trip changes.

Visit our travel insurance site to compare and purchase the right policy for you and your family.

Bottom line

We all need a good vacation from time to time. But if you’re not feeling well enough, skip the flight, stay home and save your leave for when you can make the most of a trip. More importantly, purchase travel insurance to protect yourself against such unforeseen situations.

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