Looking to fly abroad with a pre-existing medical condition?


One of the unexpected consequences of being ill or having a pre-existing medical condition is the potential trouble it can cause to your travel plans.
It’s a pain when illness impacts your carefully thought-out itinerary and flying with a pre-existing medical condition can be a headache. If you’re recovering from a bout of illness, or living with a long-term condition, you’re all the more likely to be in need of the rest and relaxation that travel can provide.
Luckily, as long as you’re in a fit state to travel and brave the airport queues and airline food, having a pre-existing medical condition shouldn’t stop you from going on holiday. You shouldn’t have too much trouble getting travel insurance with medical conditions either.

You just need to plan a bit more carefully, listen to all the advice that doctors and the airline can provide, and make sure you look after yourself both before and during your trip.
If you’re looking to fly abroad with a pre-existing medical condition, it’s important that you have all the correct information. You need to know how flying might affect your health, whether doctors would specifically advise against it in your particular case, whether airlines might refuse you, and what type of travel insurance you need.
In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more. You’ll be settling into your plane seat in no time!

What medical conditions stop you from flying?

First, you need to know whether your particular condition can stop you from flying. The NHS’s Fit for Travel site states that:
“Airlines can refuse to carry passengers with conditions that may worsen, or have serious consequences, during a  flight. Airlines may request medical clearance if there is an indication that a passenger could be suffering from an unstable medical condition.”
The NHS advises that people with the following pre-existing medical conditions do not fly:
-          Angina, breathlessness or chest pain when resting
-          A recent heart attack
-          Any infectious disease
-          Decompression sickness (for example from diving)
-          Increased intracranial pressure (for example due to bleeding, infection or injury)
-          Sinus infections
-          A recent stroke
-          Severe or chronic respiratory disease
-          Recent surgery (talk to your doctor about whether this applies in your case, and how long you should wait to fly if it does)
-          Mental health illness (unless fully controlled)
-          Sickle cell anaemia
-          Unresolved pneumothorax (a life-threatening condition that’s often found in patients with underlying lung disease)

They also advise against air travel for babies who are under 48 hours old, and women in or after the 36th week of pregnancy (32 weeks for multiple pregnancies; i.e. twins or triplets.)
NHS Fit for Travel also points out that, although the risk of infectious disease being passed on whilst on-board an aircraft is low, different airlines will have different policies and that they do have the right to refuse travel if they believe you to be contagious. You should always check with both your doctor and the airline itself if you think that you might be refused travel.
 A middle aged couple walking to an airport with a suitcase

Are you allowed to fly if you’re sick?

The rule of thumb seems to be that if you are showing visible signs of illness (for example a fever if you’ve got an infectious illness, or if you’re having chest pains that are a symptom of an existing heart condition) you should delay travel until you are no longer actively ill.

 Can airlines refuse sick passengers?

A question that we get asked a lot is whether airlines can stop you from flying if you’ve got a pre-existing health condition.
As already mentioned, Fit for Travel states that airlines do have the right to refuse travel to those who they deem too unwell to board the plane.
The site suggests that if you or your child are still showing symptoms of an infectious disease, for example, spots from chickenpox, but are no longer infectious, you should make sure you have a letter from your doctor stating that that is the case.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) details what you might need to do if your airline requests proof of your fitness to fly. If they do request this, you may need to:
-          Provide information about your condition or illness
-          Provide a note from your doctor detailing your condition
-          Fill in any further forms requested by the airline (the majority of passengers will not need to do this)

You can see which infectious diseases might stop you from travelling, and at what point during them you could be a risk to others, here.
You can also find out more about fitness-to-fly assessments here.
The possibility that airlines could refuse your boarding is another reason why it’s really important to make sure you’ve got travel insurance with medical conditions included.

Can a doctor prevent you from flying?

Whilst a doctor is highly unlikely to be able to stop you from boarding a plane if you are determined, they will always advise against it if they feel that it could be detrimental to your own health or that of others. They can do this by:
-          Strongly advising that you don’t travel, for example, if you have just had surgery or are still infectious / showing signs of an active illness
-          Refusing to provide you with a note that certifies you as fit to travel, if this is requested by the airline


Is it safe to fly with a mental health condition?

Travelling abroad can be a stressful experience, especially if you have a pre-existing mental health condition. As the GOV.uk website points out, getting the right kind of travel insurance and researching the healthcare options in your chosen destination are crucial if you suffer with your mental health.
You should check that your medication is allowed to be taken abroad, as it may contain ingredients that are illegal in your chosen destination. If it is allowed, make sure you have enough medication to last you the entire trip as it may not be available locally.
It’s best to ask your doctor to give you a letter explaining your medication and why you need it. Keep all medication clearly labelled in your hand luggage, so you can show officials should they ask for it.
Take a look at this handy graphic for more advice on travelling abroad with a mental health condition, or see Time to Change to learn more about what’s being done to end mental health discrimination.

 Is it safe to fly with a heart condition?

A couple sitting on deckchairs on the beach with cocktails in their hands watching the sunset over the ocean
You’ll be glad to know that having an underlying heart condition shouldn’t stop you from going on holiday, except in extreme circumstances.
The British Heart Foundation says that you should be fine to travel if you feel well and your condition is stable and controlled, but it does advise that you seek confirmation from your GP before you make any travel plans, especially if you have:
-          Recently had a heart attack
-          Recently had heart surgery
-          Recently been in hospital because of your heart condition

The British Heart Foundation also reminds you to leave extra time for your journey in order to avoid unnecessary stress, and to speak to your GP or a nurse about how you can take your medicine at the right time if you’re travelling through different time zones.
You can find more information on travelling with a pre-existing heart condition via the NHS website here.

Does flying affect your heart?

There is little evidence that flying has a direct effect on your heart, although you should be aware of the risks of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and of high blood pressure, the latter of which can be caused by the stress of the airport, turbulence during the flight, and so on.
The risk of DVT comes from the fact that we’re often cramped in small spaces on planes, with a lack of legroom. This can cause our circulation to slow down, particularly in our legs, so to avoid this you should make sure you do some foot and leg exercises and walk around during the flight.
This is particularly important during long haul flights, which require us to be sat down for longer. The NHS offers advice on how to avoid DVT on flights here.
If you’ve previously had a heart attack or other heart problem, you might be at particularly high risk of seeing your blood pressure rise while you’re travelling. You need to be more aware of this than those without pre-existing heart conditions, so you should make sure you do the following in order to keep calm and relieve stress:
-          Get a good night’s sleep before the flight
-          Leave enough time for your transfer to the airport, in case of traffic problems, delays at security, long queues and so on
-          Book any assistance through the airline, as early as possible
-          Plan some breathing, meditation or calming exercises that you can do on the plane to relieve any tension
-          Make sure you have any medication you need in your hand luggage, both in case you need it whilst travelling and also in case your suitcase goes missing in transit. Trying to track down prescribed medication in a foreign country is not a situation you want!
-          Avoid salty foods, alcohol, excess coffee and fatty foods during the flight, and try to eat vegetables and foods containing fibre instead
-          Make sure your travel plans from the airport to your destination are organised in advance so that you aren’t waiting for a lift the other side


How important is travel insurance if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

A plane coming in to land at sunset
Short answer: very!
It’s hugely important to take out insurance when you travel abroad, and when you have a pre-existing medical condition it becomes even more essential. Finding yourself ill abroad with no insurance could mean you have to pay for your treatment upfront, which can be extremely costly, especially if you require emergency care.
Even a small accident that’s unrelated to your existing medical condition could see you landed with a bill for hundreds of pounds; if you’re admitted to hospital the costs will quickly run into the thousands.
Also, as we don’t currently know whether our European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) will continue to be valid in the case of Brexit, it’s doubly important that you take out a separate travel insurance policy in order to protect yourself when travelling in Europe.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s essential that you declare it when you take out travel insurance. If you don’t, it’s likely that your insurance will be invalid and you won’t be able to make a claim.

How is the cost of my travel insurance policy calculated?

The cost of your travel insurance policy is calculated with a number of factors in  mind, including your age, the destination that you’re travelling to, the length of your trip, the likelihood of you making a claim, and any pre-existing medical conditions that you have.
The cost of medical treatment at your destination is also likely to be a factor. Unfortunately, there is a likelihood that having a pre-existing medical condition will increase your premiums. 
When taking out your travel insurance policy, you may be asked questions about your condition. These could include the severity, how recent the illness is, whether you are awaiting any tests, and which medications you are taking.
You could also be asked about your lifestyle, including whether you’re a smoker and/or how often you exercise. These questions are normal, and you shouldn’t be alarmed by them. They are designed to ensure that you get the right policy, covering all your needs, at the right cost.

Getting travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions included

As your pre-existing medical condition might be complex, it’s a good idea to speak to a specialist about your insurance needs rather than trying to find a one-size-fits-all policy online.
Insurance Choice can put together a bespoke package for travel insurance with medical conditions included, whether it’s for multiple or single trips or specific activities. We can also include family members who may or may not have a pre-existing medical condition, so everyone in your party can be covered.
Ready to get a quote on your travel insurance?