Everything You Need to Know about Flying with a Cold or the Flu
What causes a cold?
A cold, or 'common cold', is an upper respiratory tract infection which can be caused by a number of different viruses. The cold is transmitted by virus-infected airborne droplets or through direct contact with infected bodily secretions. The common cold is a self-limited disease which can cause discomfort. Common symptoms include a bad cough, agitated sinuses, a sore throat, sneezing, and a runny nose. Over-the-counter medication can help relieve symptoms.
What causes the flu?
The flu is caused by influenza viruses that can infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms can include headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, dry coughs, chills, a sore throat, a runny nose, fatigue or nasal congestion. The flu is also transmitted by virus-infected airborne droplets or through direct contact with infected bodily secretions. Treatment can include antiviral medicine which helps reduce symptoms.
Is it safe to fly with a cold or the flu?
In most cases, it is safe to travel if fighting a mild cold; however, the experience may be uncomfortable. When you're in a plane, especially during take off and landing, the external air pressure (the pressure outside your sinuses and middle ear) changes more rapidly than your internal air pressure (the pressure inside your sinuses and inner ear). This can result in symptoms including pain, dizziness, congested sinuses, or dulled hearing.
Symptoms can be worse if you have existing respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma.
When should I postpone travel due to a cold or flu?
Nobody wants to miss out on a trip they've been looking forward to, and it can be a very tough decision to postpone or change your plans. However, authoritative bodies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US and the NHS in the UK sets out the following guidelines to help you decide whether you are fit to travel. It is recommended that you do not fly, or seek professional medical advice before travelling if you are experiencing a combination of a fever of 100°F (37.7°C) upwards or/and any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- A severe ear, sinus or nose infection
- An infectious disease that's easily transmissible
- Noticeable signs of sickness, such as physical weakness
- A skin rash or lesions
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent, severe cough
- Persistent diarrhoea
- Persistent vomiting that’s the result of your sickness
- Skin and eyes turning yellow or noticeable discolouration