Too sick to fly? Possibly

So, you’re days away from a big trip, one you’ve been planning for weeks or months. And then … cough. Cough, cough.

Uh, oh.

You hope it gets better, mainline orange juice and echinacea, and sleep as much as you can.

When travel day arrives, you drag yourself to the airport, through security and to your middle seat in coach when a friendly flight attendant stops by on his pre-departure rounds.

“You OK? You look a little under the weather.”

You are now about two responses away from being kicked off the plane. Tread lightly.

Can they do that?

First things first: Shame on you. Traveling in close quarters with others while contagious is an antisocial act.

Second things second: I’ve done it. Most people who travel on the regular have, because life is not perfect. It happens.

So, with public shaming, confession and forgiveness out of the way, let’s get to business.

Yes, your airline can kick you off the plane for being ill, and usually that means at the discretion of that friendly flight attendant who appears to just be making conversation.

Unless there’s a serious outbreak on the level of SARS or swine flu, you’re not likely to be questioned. But if you are and you don’t want to fly, here’s how to answer:

“I’ve been running this fever for days now.”

Or, “My doctor thinks it’s pneumonia.”

Or, “My kids have been down with the measles this week. I didn’t have it as a kid.”

While each airline’s contract of carriage is unique, the vast majority have “contagion” provisions that say you can be grounded. Delta’s, for example, says this:

“…Delta may refuse to transport any passenger, or may remove any passenger from its aircraft, when refusal to transport or removal of the passenger is reasonably necessary in Delta’s sole discretion (emphasis added) for the passenger’s comfort or safety, for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees… By way of example, and without limitation, Delta may refuse to transport or may remove passengers from its aircraft in any of the following situations: … 5) When the passenger has a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers during the normal course of the flight…”

The International Air Transport Association’s medical policy manual says clearance by an airline’s medical department can be required when a passenger “suffers from any disease which is believed to be actively contagious or communicable.”

What to do

Buy travel insurance that covers your costs if you have to change your plans because of illness. The catch? You need to do it long before the trip.

You could also pay the airline change fee to delay your travel until you feel better.

Or, you can do what the majority of travelers polled recently do: Fly anyway.

Want to know more? Check out what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say about flying (and cruising) and health here.

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Lisa Schwarz

About Lisa Schwarz

By day, I'm a St. Cloud Times editor guiding coverage of politics, government, public safety and business beats. By night, I'm leading the cubicle jailbreak as the Times Traveler. Follow me on Twitter at and on Facebook at
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