When contemplating air travel it is essential to prepare well in advance if you have medical conditions.
Air travel is undertaken by millions of people in the UK every year. For the vast majority flight in a commercial aircraft poses few medical risks. However if you have some medical conditions it is important to consider your fitness for flight.
The advice given below is very general and applies to patients with some respiratory illnesses. However you should seek more specific advice from your doctor.
1. It is important to get a 'flying' letter to say you are fit to travel. This should be supplemented by completing a Medical Information form (MEDIF) from the airline website. When you sign this form it gives permission for your doctor to give medical information about you to the airline’s medical department. If you are using a ventilator/CPAP make sure your consultant includes a statement saying you need to take it on board with you. It is very unwise to have it in luggage as it can get damaged and might not arrive with you at your destination. It's not just the cost, it's the inconvenience it will cause.
2. If you require oxygen on the ground you will need it in the aircraft. Even if you don’t usually need oxygen on the ground you may need it in the air and the emergency oxygen carried in the aircraft will not last long enough for your needs. If you need oxygen it will need to be prescribed and booked with the airline (most air carriers charge for this). You should go to the airlines website as each have different rules and arrangements. The MEDIF will help guide you through this process.
3. If you have medications, take your prescription carry with you enough to cover any for possible diversion. You can ask your GP to write a letter confirming you take medication and what. In some cases you may not need this. You will probably have to pay for the letter.
4. At some airports the distance between the door terminal and the aircraft can be very long and if you have problems with mobility or exercise tolerance you may want to consider asking for airport “special services” to provide a wheelchair. There may be a charge.
5. Short haul flights are generally easier than long haul ones. For the latter, make sure you remain well hydrated and exercise your legs, especially your calves. If you are in an older age group, have (or had) a serious illness or a history of blood clotting problems you may need to take further steps to reduce the risk of venous thrombosis. Advice on risk factors is available at a number of websites but you should also talk to your doctor about this.
6. Finally, remember travel insurance. If you became unwell abroad the cost of treatment and for returning you to the UK can be very substantial.
For further assistance contact the British Lung Foundation on 03000 030 555.
To book assistance call Norwich Airport Customer Assistance on 01603 420672.
Further information visit Flying with Disability web site.
Professor DP Gradwell BSc PhD MBChB FRCP FFOM DAvMed FRAeS
Professor of Aerospace Medicine
Air Travel advice for people with Medical Conditions
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