Flying and health

Tips and tricks to enjoy air travel

The well-being of passengers is close to the hearts of all airlines. No wonder, since they don't want to lose any customers and also don't want to experience any unpleasant or dangerous situations in the air. Flying does not pose any particular risks for most illnesses. Nevertheless, there are special things to consider for certain ailments. The basic rule before any flight is therefore - if in doubt, consult your doctor in advance. In addition, most airlines offer special information on the subject of "flight and health" on their websites.

Gesundheit beim Fliegen

Special equipment for sick people

Not every passenger boards an airplane in good spirits. Many passengers suffer from prolonged pre-existing conditions that entail special needs. Often, however, a sudden injury such as a broken leg with a plaster cast causes short-term problems. You want to know more? Here you can find out the most important things about flying and health.

Medication in hand luggage

The issue of medication in carry-on luggage is always one that should be checked before departure. Regulations for hand luggage are constantly changing and can even be handled differently by countries and airlines.

  • Prescription drugs may be carried in your hand luggage - regardless of whether they are liquid or solid medicines. However, you should always take a certificate with you confirming the prescription of the medication you are carrying and the necessity of carrying it with you from your family doctor.
  • Non-prescription medications such as Voltaren, aspirin or ibuprofen can be stowed in hand luggage without any problems. Headaches in the air are not uncommon among sensitive passengers. They are usually caused by the difference in pressure. If you are one of the more sensitive passengers, an aspirin or similar in your hand luggage is not a bad idea.

Syringes on board

Syringes are on the list of "dangerous objects" and may not normally be taken into the cabin. However, diabetics, allergy sufferers or people at increased risk of thrombosis are dependent on medication administered by syringe in acute cases. If you need to take a syringe with you for health reasons, the same applies as for prescription medication in your hand luggage - take a certificate from your family doctor.

Thrombosis risk

Air travelers with an existing risk of thrombosis should obtain individually fitted compression stockings for a long-haul flight (from approx. three hours flight time). It is also advisable for these passengers to seek timely advice from their family doctor about medical prevention options before departure. A simple, if sometimes annoying, remedy is to walk up and down the center aisle during the flight to activate circulation in the legs.

Tip: a simple exercise you can do while sitting that works well against thrombosis in the legs is the "vein pump." Here you alternately tense the rear and front calf muscles. This conscious activation of the calf muscles is intended to prevent blood from clotting in the veins of the lower legs and forming dangerous blood clots.

Heart disease during air travel

Air travel places an increased strain on the body because of the low cabin pressure and the resulting low oxygen concentration in the blood.
The reason for this is that the heart is forced to compensate for the lack of oxygen by increasing its beating frequency. The pressure changes are also stressful, especially during takeoff and landing.
People without heart problems normally have no problem with the lower pressure. Passengers suffering from heart disease, however, are different. For this reason, such people should only travel by air if they are in good physical condition and the trip has been discussed in advance with their doctor. It is recommended (without wanting to paint a black picture) to be prepared for an emergency. This means that travel destinations with good emergency medical care should be preferred. Patients with a pacemaker should also not forget the corresponding pacemaker card (e.g. in case there are problems at the check-in).

Should heart problems occur during the flight despite good travel preparations, most airlines are well equipped to deal with them. Cabin crew are trained in first aid and passenger aircraft are generally well equipped for medical emergencies. For example, many airlines include a defibrillator as standard equipment on board. It is also recommended that you ensure the availability of any medical supplies that may be needed, such as medical oxygen (can be requested in advance with many airlines).

It is generally better to avoid air travel if you have any of the following (heart) diseases:

  • Permanent breathing problems
  • Unstable angina pectoris
  • Severe heart defects
  • Cardiac arrhythmias of an uncontrolled nature

Tip: The German Heart Foundation in Frankfurt a. M. offers people with heart problems a travel kit to order free of charge. The kit makes it possible to access important information quickly in an emergency. It includes travel tips and a checklist for travel preparations, an emergency ID card for people with heart problems, and a medical phrasebook that can be of valuable assistance in the event of a cardiac emergency abroad. You can order the travel kit via the website

Flying with a plaster

Inconvenient, annoying, but unfortunately not always avoidable. Accidents with bone fractures usually happen when you need them least. Still, it doesn't mean you have to cancel the flight you booked just because you missed a cast. However, there are some basic rules you should follow:

  • Prolonged air travel should not occur until at least 48 hours after a fracture.
  • 24 hours to 48 hours after a fracture, you should only take flights with a maximum duration of two hours. In this case, it is still important to note: many airlines insist on a medically correct longitudinal splitting of the cast made shortly before departure, if it is not older than 48 hours. The reason for this is that the low air pressure en route can cause fresh wounds to expand. This can cause tissue damage but also circulatory problems.

    Translated with (free version)
  • Passengers with a cast leg must expect to have to book two additional seats in addition to the one they have booked. This ensures that the cast foot can be put down and stretched out during the flight. Stretching out the cast leg is not permitted at the center aisle.
  • Passengers with a plaster leg are allowed to take a crutch or walker on board.
  • When checking in with a cast, some airlines require a "fit to fly certificate". This must be issued by the passenger's attending physician or the airline's medical officer and is intended to confirm the guest's fitness to fly.
  • Some airlines will only take passengers with casts on board if they sign a confirmation in advance that they are aware of the risks of flying with a cast (e.g. increased risk of thrombosis).

Artificial joints or metal in the body

Travelers with metal implants who are properly prepared for security checks can check in comfortably and without fear of unexpected checks. However, it is to be expected that the metal detectors at the security check will emit a warning signal upon contact with metal. Travelers with artificial joints, as well as those who have plates, screws or wires in their bodies, will therefore almost always attract the attention of officials. To avoid annoying questions, you should take an implant or prosthesis passport with you. This contains not only information about the implanted foreign body, but also about its wearer. If there is no such passport, you can also take X-ray images as "evidence".

Tip: A pacemaker also contains metal components. It is important to note that these high-tech devices can be disturbed by a metal detector and health problems can result.

Reassuring to know: Some airlines have a special program for physicians (Doc on Board). Under this program, the doctor's specialty is stored and he receives several benefits for registering (e.g. bonus miles, discounts on the next booking ...). Physicians can register on a website before departure. This allows the airline provider to know not only whether a doctor is in the cabin, but also in which seat he or she can be found quickly if needed.
Airlines that do not have such a system usually ask whether there is a doctor among the passengers by means of announcements in the cabin.

Flying at night

Elderly people or people with circulatory problems should keep a close eye on the time of the flights. After hardly anyone lives near the airport, so also has a journey to the airport, travel times to the flight time often extend significantly. This is exhausting. Especially in summer or winter, when you come from outdoors to indoors and are constantly exposed to different climatic conditions, this can be a heavy strain on the circulation. It is often advisable to fly at night in summer to reduce the climatic fluctuations somewhat and perhaps even combine the flight time with sleep.

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