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How To Avoid Infection While Traveling By Airplane

How To Prepare For A Flight

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Think through what you need on the plane.

Check to see if the flight(s) will have what you need on board. For instance:

  • Food with which to take your medicine.
  • Water to avoid dehydration or to take pills.
  • Unmedicated petroleum jelly for your nostrils for a long flight.
  • Needles. (Flight attendants should not be expected to administer medications or to start IVs).
  • Oxygen.
  • If you have a history of heart disease, and are flying outside of the U.S., a defribrillator. The FAA requires that all commercial flights carry a defribrillator.

If an item isn't going to be onboard, take your own or buy it ahead of time. (Keep in mind that in the U.S. you can't carry more than 3 ounces of liquid through security. However, you can purchase water in the secure area before boarding).

You can lessen the discomfort caused by pressure changes and dry air.

  • For discomfort caused by pressure changes, use nasal decongestants.
  • For dry air, use nasal saline sprays or unmedicated petroleum jelly.

Bring your own inflatable pillow in case the airline does not provide them. If you will use an airline pillow, bring your own covering to avoid prolonged contact with pillows that are reused.

If you're prone to emergency situations, don't expect that the crew is trained in more than use of a defribrillator or CPR. Find out what arrangements the airline has to deal with onboard medical emergencies. For example, some airlines have arrangements with a private company or medical institution that provides advice to the pilots. Some airlines are experimenting with tele-medicine which also sends a passenger's vital signs to a doctor on the ground.

If you have a weakened immune system

  • Buy a face mask to reduce exposure to airborne infections.  Ask your doctor, his/her team or your pharmacist which is the best mask to purchase. Masks can be purchased in any pharmacy or online.
  • Consider protecting yourself against recycled air. With a doctor's note, you can rent oxygen bottles from the airlines. Call the airline's reservations line for details. While charges vary, oxygen usually costs about $75 per flight.

If you have a physical disability

Passengers with disabilities have priority in respect to assistive devices that are to be shipped or taken into the cabin. These rights are described in New Horizons For The Air Traveler With A Disability available free from the U.S. Department of Transportation, telephone: 719-948-3334. For an overview of rights of all travelers, see Fly-Rights, A Consumer Guide To Air Travel, published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, available free at offsite link

If you have luggage to check

Consider sending luggage ahead. Most airlines charge for checked luggage. If you ship luggage ahead by ground service (such as through Parcel Post, FedEx or UPS) it will take a few days, but it is generally less expensive than a charge for checked luggage.  Depending on your airline,  you might save even more by shipping bags weighing 50-plus pounds. Plus you don't have the hassle of getting your luggage to and from the airport, or waiting in line to check your bags - advantages that can be important if you are not feeling up to par.   

Think through what will make it easier to get through airport security.

Given security screening, it is advisable to prepare as follows:

  • Separate medications and supplies from your other carry-on items.
  • Keep medications you carry on board in a container with a label identifying each drug. If the drug requires a prescription, the label should have a name on it that matches the name on your ticket and/or passport.
  • If your medication involves liquid that contains more than 3 ounces, or if you carry unused syringes, be prepared to declare each item to security inspectors. It helps to have a letter from your doctor describing your health condition and that the item is necessary for your health.

Keep in mind  that you have the option of requesting a visual inspection or your medications and related supplies. If you prefer this method,  you must request such an inspection before the screening process begins. Items that cannot be cleared visually will likely have to be put through the x-ray machines.


Find out about shops and services at the airport - and even flight status and gate information.


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