If you have chronic health problems, flying can seem frustratingly complicated. You’ll have extra paperwork to sort out, possible extra expenses, and extra planning to do, even though you may have less energy than the average person. There’s also the stress of getting through the airport. Fortunately there is help available with many of these problems. As long as you know what you’re doing, air travel doesn’t need to be off-putting.
Know Your Options
As a person with chronic illness, you have as much right to fly as anyone else, and airlines will still want your custom. There are only two reasons why they may refuse to fly you. The first is if they think you may be a danger to other passengers. The second is if they think there is a high risk of you needing urgent medical attention which could force the flight to be diverted, costing a small fortune.
In assessing these risks, different airlines operate different policies, so if you have problems with one you can always try another. You can also appeal if you think your condition has been misunderstood. In some cases an airline may be more willing to transport you if you are accompanied by a carer who can assist with any non-urgent problems.
It’s worth noting that, whilst no airline has an obligation to fly you, they do have an obligation to treat you with respect and to clearly explain any refusal. Most people with chronic health problems are able to fly without any major difficulties.
Before You Fly
When you plan your trip, the first thing you will need is a letter from your doctor stating that you are fit to fly. This is adequate on its own for most short-haul flights (such as flights within the UK), as diversion isn’t an issue for them (they could take you to your planned destination just as quickly). For longer flights, however, you will need insurance. This can be very expensive in some cases, so don’t make too many plans before investigating it.
If you’re not sure where to start, your doctor can provide an outline of your condition and highlight anything that’s likely to seem significant to an insurer. You can then discuss this with travel agents or look for a cheap deal online. Don’t be tempted to leave out some details of your condition in order to save money – it could leave you open to being sued for thousands of pounds if something goes wrong.
When you book your flight, take a look at what the airline offers in terms of disability assistance. Some of this may be relevant to you and you should usually book such services two days before you fly.
At the Airport
Every airport in the UK now offers free assistance for disabled passengers to reach and leave planes. You don’t need to have an obvious, visible disability to access this. If you find it tiring to stand for a long time or to walk through long airport corridors, it’s a good idea to book it. Just tell staff about your booking when you check in, and they will find you somewhere to wait until you can be collected.
Assistance at the airport extends to support in getting through customs, including searching that is approached in a personalised way so you can ask the official to be careful if you experience pain in some places.
As a chronically ill person you are allowed to take all the medicines you may need onto the flight, even if that means exceeding the usual allowance for liquids. Just make sure they’re in their original containers and pack liquids separately in a clear plastic bag. You can also take extra water with you if you are likely to need it for health reasons.
On the Plane
Most airlines offer some degree of onboard assistance for passengers with health problems. This can include providing priority boarding so you don’t have to struggle past people, and help with stowing your luggage. If you need a special diet you can have special onboard meals prepared for you, but this must be arranged in advance. Staff can help you to and from the toilet cubicle but you will need to manage by yourself inside it.
Once you have tried flying like this a few times, you will find that it doesn’t need to be stressful – at least, no more so than it is for the average passenger. Air travel can become a straightforward part of your life.