I have been diagnosed as having an infection which is contagious (an infection that may be passed from one person to another). I am due to fly soon, what should I do?
You should delay your flight until the illness is no longer contagious. Talk to the doctor who is treating you to find out when you will be able to travel.
If possible, arrange to get a letter from the doctor once you are no longer contagious, confirming this and that you are fit to fly. This can be particularly important for some illnesses, such as chicken pox, where you may still have some signs of the illness such as a spots or a rash. The airline may refuse to let you travel if the staff at the airport or on the aircraft think that you may still be contagious.
It is advisable to inform the airline that you are due to fly with, as they will be able to tell you if they have any specific requirements such as a letter from your doctor before they will let you travel. They will also tell you if there will be any additional charges if you have to change your booking. You should also contact your insurer if you have travel insurance, as you may be able to make a claim if you have to pay to re-book your flight or have to cancel the flight or a holiday because of your illness.
Should I fly if I have recently been in contact with a person who has a contagious disease (an infection that may be passed from one person to another)?
You should talk to your doctor and let them know that you are intending to fly. The doctor will be able to tell you how likely it is that you will develop the illness, how long it usually takes for someone to become unwell if they do catch the infection and what you should do if you develop symptoms.
For most infections you are only likely to be contagious (able to pass on the disease) once you have symptoms of the illness. If you are feeling well and do not have any signs of illness, such as a rash or a cough, you will probably be able to travel.
Don’t forget to check that you have travel insurance cover, in case you become unwell and need medical treatment while you are away.
Why do I always pick up an infection after I have travelled in an aircraft?
Most contagious illnesses, such as chicken pox, measles, ‘flu or the common cold, are spread as a result of close contact between people. This most commonly happens through ‘droplet spread’ – breathing in viral particles or bacteria carried into the air when someone with the illness coughs or sneezes close by.
You might pick up an infection on the aircraft if someone in a seat close to you has a cold or other contagious disease. However, it is just as likely that you could catch an infection from someone close to you when travelling by public transport, at the airport, in your hotel or at a conference – indeed anywhere where you might be in close contact with other people.
You may have heard that you are more likely to catch an infection on board an aircraft because some of the cabin air is re-circulated. However, the air that is re-circulated passes through filters which are highly effective at removing particles, including bacteria, viruses and fungi that can cause infection. Research has shown that you are no more likely to catch an infection on an aircraft that has re-circulated air than on one where the air is not re-circulated. Go to Cabin Air Quality for further information.