To the woman who sat next to me on the plane: You. Yes, YOU–the one who was flying while sick. You know who you are. For almost four hours, you sneezed into the crook of your arm. You coughed and sniffed…and you touched a hundred surfaces. Of course, I caught your cold.
Here’s the kicker: You told the guy on the other side of you that you’re a nurse. In fact, you take care of cancer patients, and had just come from treating one of them. Imagine…a weak and immune-suppressed person was exposed to your illness. Were you absent the day they taught the germ theory? You might want to google Louis Pasteur.
When NOT to get on the plane
We understand that airlines don’t care how we feel when it’s time for our flight. Barring an emergency, they will never let us reschedule without severe penalty, leaving us with little choice but to board the plane, claim our seat, and hope for the best. It’s always prudent to stop and evaluate how you feel, as well as the possible impact on fellow passengers. Experts advise against flying if you:
- Have a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Are experiencing chest pain of any kind
- Feel nauseated, are vomiting, or have diarrhea
- Are having difficulty breathing
These may seem obvious, but just because you’re trying to get somewhere, don’t make light of your symptoms. If you’re in the air and things suddenly get worse, there are few healthcare resources. Better to cancel your flight than experience a catastrophic medical incident in the air. (Note: Some airlines may allow you to cancel for these reasons, but don’t count on it. Travel insurance may or may not cover the costs, depending on the policy. Having a note from a physician can help.)
Flying while sick: Minor ailments and symptoms
But, what if you just feel under the weather? Maybe a cold, like my seat mate? If flying while sick is necessary, there are a few measures you can take to feel better and to minimize the risk to others.
Come prepared: The woman next to me didn’t even have tissues for her sneezes…hence her sleeve. You should always carry tissues anyway, but double up when your nose is drippy. Don’t forget a baggie to put used tissues in. Bring water for a scratchy throat and the usual dehydration, as well as lip balm for the dry air. Saline or decongestant nasal spray can really make a difference.
Be comfortable: Dress in layers so you can deal with feeling chilled or warm. Ask the gate agent is a window seat is available, so you can lean. You can also turn your head to the wall when sneezing or coughing. Bring lozenge or gum to help equalize the air pressure during takeoff and landing. Listen to your favorite playlist or watch a movie.
Medicate: Unless your physician says otherwise, take an over-the-counter (OTC) medication for your symptoms. Cold and cough options are in every pharmacy or grocery store. If you’re experiencing stomach issues, you may want to opt ahead for an anti-diarrhea pill, or two. Generic brands are fine. If you’re coming with a cough, bring lozenges–and use them. If you have to keep one in your mouth the entire flight, it’s better than spreading your germs. Start as soon as you can with medications, to help control what ails you before you board. (Read “OTC Medications Every Traveler Should Pack“)
Hand hygiene: Be sure to bring plenty of hand sanitizer. Every time you touch your nose or mouth, use the sanitizer. Apply it before you fiddle with the outlets and controls at your seat. Hand sanitizer is cheap; use it lavishly. A travel size pouch of disinfectant wipes is a great idea, too. When it’s time to get off the plane, give your area a rub-down. You’d like it if the passenger on the last flight, who was flying while sick, did it for you.
It’s really a matter of common sense, except it takes a little planning. And guess what? I’m a nurse, too. When I flew back home a week later, with my newly acquired cold, I did all these things–except I kept my aisle seat. I didn’t cough or sneeze once.
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