Having epilepsy shouldn't need to stop you from flying for work or pleasure, but it is important to plan ahead before you fly, to understand airline policies and ensure your travel experience is smooth and safe.
Having epilepsy does not usually prevent people from safely being able to travel by air; flying is considered relatively low-risk. But, some will find that their epilepsy can be triggered by becoming very tired, or from anxiety or stress - all of which are associated with flying.
If you believe that there is a possible chance that you might have a seizure on the plane, it is important to take steps to ensure your safety, by ensuring those who are flying with you, including the airline staff, understand your condition and know how to help.
The severity of your epilepsy will determine what precautions should be taken, so it is always important to talk to your doctor.
Before flying, check whether you will need any paperwork to travel with your medicine. Ensure you are prescribed enough medicine, longer than the expected length of your trip, to cover possible loss or potential delays. More information can be found in our guide to flying with medication.
Most vaccines are safe for those with epilepsy, and will not affect seizure control, or anti-epileptic drugs. However some anti-malarial medication can provoke seizures and will not be suitable if you have epilepsy. If you plan on heading to a country where anti-malarial medication is recommended, speak to your doctor, who can advise you which medication will be the most suitable for you.
You can find out more by visiting our travel vaccinations guide.
If stress or jet-lag triggers your seizures, then consider whether it is worth risking a long-haul flight. It will also be important to consider the best time of year to travel. Many popular tourist destinations have hot climates, which can cause fatigue and trigger seizures. Travelling during off-peak months, usually between November and March, can mean both cooler climates and cheaper prices.
Flying to a destination in a different time zone can present difficulties when it comes to timing your medicine. It might mean that taking your medicine at your usual time will fall in the middle of the night, for example. In the weeks before flying, you might be able to gradually change the times that you take your medicine. These changes will depend on your arrival destination and how far you are travelling. You may find it helpful to ask your doctor for help with planning and more advice.
Each airline will have a different policy so it is important to check in advance. A lot of airlines will follow the International Air Travel Association (IATA) medical guidelines that state that if you have had a tonic-clonic seizure less than 24 hours before your flight, you will require medical clearance before you are allowed to fly. If you have any concerns, speak to your GP.
Airport security scanners shouldn't affect your VNS. However, it is possible that the VNS device could set off the metal detector alarm curing the security screening procedure. A VNS is a pacemaker-like device and works by sending electrical impulses to your brain. A VNS has the aim of reducing the number of seizures you have and to make them less severe. Inform staff at the scanner so they know about your VNS, and can carry a letter from your doctor explaining that you have the device as well.
Remember to carry any medication you will need during your flight in your hand luggage, and carry a copy of your prescription, as well as a letter from the doctor who has prescribed it. To avoid any confusion, medicine should always be carried unopened and in its original packaging. Be aware that some prescription medicines are controlled under different Misuse of Drugs laws depending on where you are flying from/to. You can also carry a letter from your doctor to explain what controlled medicine you are flying with.
Airport security regulations usually allow you to carry tablets, capsules and liquids up to 100ml in your hand luggage - but check with the airline you are flying with.
Carrying an epilepsy ID card will help to inform airline staff and medical staff about your condition if you are to have a seizure at the airport, on the plane or while you are away. Epilepsy Action has listed companies that supply identity jewellery, and you can also order an epilepsy ID card for free from the Epilepsy Action online.
Becoming too tired can be a risk for those with epilepsy. There are measures you can take to try and combat jet lag, including staying hydrated and practising meditation and relaxation techniques. Take a look at our wellness while flying page for more top tips!
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, there is no medical evidence to suggest that flying increases the risk of seizures.
Many airlines train their cabin crew in advanced first aid and this will include what to do if a passenger has a seizure while flying. Cabin crews usually have access to 24-hour medical assistance from healthcare professionals in the case of an emergency. If you have any concerns about your condition, speak to your doctor before booking your holiday.
A tonic-clonic seizure involves loss of consciousness. If you have experienced a tonic-clonic seizure less than 24 hours before you are scheduled to fly you will be refused boarding by the airline. This rule is set out by IATA (International Air Travel Association), and is followed by most airlines. IATA states that passengers must have been free from seizures at least 24 hours before travelling by air.
If you have experienced a seizure 24 hours before your flight, medical clearance will be required. You will need a doctor's letter that explains your medical history and that you have been approved to fly.
More information on getting medical clearance on the Civil Aviation Authority website.