How to tell when you’re too sick to fly

Nov 22, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Flu and cold seasons are officially upon us — complicating the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, you may have shrugged off mild symptoms like a sniffly nose or a tickle in your throat. But now, you can’t board an airplane without certifying you don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, a cough and more.

Beyond what the airlines may specify, travelers should watch for a laundry list of symptoms specified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which can appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Travelers need to be extremely mindful about even the most innocuous ailments now, as they could be an indication of COVID-19. But, even in normal times — or if the coronavirus isn’t detected by a COVID-19 test — it’s important to prioritize your health and the health of others. Here’s why you should never board a flight if you’re feeling sick.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

You have a fever

A good rule of thumb is to never fly when you have a fever, according to New York-based internist Dr. Frank Contacessa.

In addition to indicating a possible COVID-19 infection, a fever could also present itself if you have the flu.

“Having a fever, in general, will accelerate fluid loss from your body,” Dr. Contacessa told TPG in 2019. “The very low humidity of the cabin air will dehydrate you even faster. Dehydration makes you feel even worse, increasing weakness, headaches, lightheadedness, etc.”

You’re vomiting

(Photo by martin-dm/Getty Images)
(Photo by martin-dm/Getty Images)

Sure, there might be vomit bags in the seatback pocket. But if you’re throwing up before you get to the airport, it’s a clear indication you need to delay your travels.

“If you have a fever over 100.4 degrees or are experiencing vomiting, there’s a really good chance that you’re contagious,” Dr. Nate Favini, medical lead at Forward (a membership-based preventive care clinic), told TPG in 2019.

Related: It’s flu season — here’s how to avoid getting sick on a plane

You’re short of breath

“The pressurized cabin air has less oxygen, which can make you feel short of breath if your airways are already inflamed from an infection,” said Dr. Contacessa.

Dr. Favini added, “Flying is stressful on your body and your immune system in particular, so it can reduce your ability to fight off an infection. The air onboard is incredibly dry, and even healthy people end up extremely dehydrated at the end of their flight. You may end up being sicker or sick for longer because of flying while ill.”

You could still be contagious

Back in 2019, before the coronavirus was a known threat, Dr. Favini told TPG that travelers experiencing any flu-like symptoms — including fever, cough, runny nose, congestion, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea — are still contagious.

Even if it’s not the coronavirus making you ill, you can still infect someone up to 6 feet away.

Related: How to boost your immune system so you don’t get sick while traveling

You have ear pain

Something as minor as ear pain might also be reason enough to avoid flying. You know how your ears sometimes pop during taking off or landing? Well, if you have ear pain and pressure, then that brief moment of discomfort can become severe.

“The changes in pressure during the flight can cause your eardrum to burst if you have an ear infection and it’s not properly treated before you take off,” said Dr. Favini.

Your heart is racing

(Photo by PeopleImages/Getty Images)
(Photo by PeopleImages/Getty Images)

Even if you don’t have the sniffles or more obvious symptoms of being sick, there is one tell-tale warning sign that you absolutely shouldn’t fly. If you do, you could experience a serious medical emergency.

“If you’re experiencing chest pain or a racing heartbeat, especially if this is new or severe, don’t get on your flight,” said Dr. Favini. “This can be a sign of a life-threatening medical condition, and even if the pilot does land your flight, it might not be fast enough for you to get the help you need. The same goes for shortness of breath.”

Related: The best travel insurance policies and providers

When you can fly again

OK, let’s say you’ve determined you’re too sick to fly. When can you reschedule your trip?

“If you do change your plans and postpone your trip, you should wait until you have been without a fever for at least 24 to 48 hours,” said Dr. Contacessa back in 2019.

And, of course, if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, most airlines will ask you to delay travel for at least 14 days after testing positive. Some will require even a longer period of time since your diagnosis.

The CDC says you can be around others 10 days after symptoms first appear and 24 hours without a fever, and any other symptoms have improved.

Additional reporting by Melanie Lieberman. 

Featured photo by Roos-Koole/Getty Images.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.