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Before you fly, make sure your medical condition won't hold you back

Before you fly, make sure your medical condition won’t hold you back

Note: This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on traveling with a medical condition by British writer Laura Miller. In this post, Laura provides advice on flying with a medical condition and obtaining the right vaccinations and visas for your trip.

By Laura Miller

Flying with a medical condition

While traveling with many medical conditions is generally safe, airlines do have the right to deny passengers who could suffer complications in the air.

For those travelling by plane, the most common in-flight problems are:

• Neurologic events
• Cardiac events
• Respiratory events
• Gastrointestinal events
• Vasovagal syncope (fainting)

If you’re worried about the risk of being denied passage, it’s worth speaking to your doctor to ask for medical clearance. Consider if any of the following apply:

• You could compromise the safety of the aircraft when traveling.
• You require specialist medical care or equipment in the air.
• Your condition may worsen from flying.
• You are at risk of affecting fellow passengers.

For those with an underlying medical concern, even if it’s unlikely to cause problems when flying or won’t worsen drastically while abroad, it’s still important to get the sign-off from your doctor.

These medical conditions include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy and respiratory issues.

If you have an implant of any kind, be sure to carry a doctor’s note to that effect so that at airport security checks that use magnetic scanners you can ask to be screened by hand. Security scanners can interfere with pacemakers and other implants and cause serious health risks for you during your trip.

Vaccinations & visas for traveling abroad

Before you travel overseas, you need to ask at least two vital questions:

What vaccinations can I and should I have with my medical condition?

Do I need a visa to travel to this country?


Arranging medical vaccinations

Certain vaccinations are required both for completely healthy travelers and those with a medical condition.

They’re designed to protect you from foreign diseases and illnesses you could come into contact with on your travels. They vary depending on the region of the world you’re visiting, and, unfortunately for those traveling with a medical condition, getting vaccinated for certain diseases could pose a degree of risk, which could limit where you can travel.

Vaccinations fall into two categories – those that are mandatory before visiting the region and those that are simply advised.

Mandatory vaccinations may include typhoid, yellow fever, cholera, and hepatitis. Temporary outbreaks may occur anywhere from Africa to Western Europe, South America to Southeast Asia.

If it’s a mandatory vaccination, you’ll need to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination to prove you’ve had your shot within a particular time period. Some vaccinations are good for 10 years or longer, while others may protect you for only a few months.

You may need a booster for shots you received as a child — easy for an adult to overlook. Have a doctor — preferably one who specializes in overseas travel medicine — review your vaccination record at least every ten years.

Be prepared to pay a substantial amount for certain vaccinations if your insurance doesn’t cover them.


Travelling with the right visas

The good news is that the regulations for applying for necessary visas remain the same, no matter if you’re healthy or have a medical condition.

The bad news is that obtaining some visas can be a long and frustrating process.

Visas vary from country to country. Americans and British travelers don’t need them when travelling in Europe. Visas are mandatory for Australia, however, and the United States imposes mandatory visa restrictions on many countries.

Keep in mind that some visa applications can take weeks or even months to process in some cases — so hold off on arranging to leave the country until you know you have sufficient time to obtain your visa.

Also remember that you’ll have to give up your passport when applying for visas  — preventing you from most overseas travel until you get your passport back.

Visa services can help speed the process along — or at least make it easier for you, since they will deliver and pick up passports at consulates where visas are issued.

They can also advise you on filling out forms — China, for instance, has a particularly complicated and confusing form, and making a mistake on it could delay or derail your application.

Final note: It’s always a good idea to get travel insurance before leaving on an oversea strip — especially when you’re traveling with a medical condition. See our previous post, Six Things to Know About Travel Insurance, and, for our British readers, A Citizens’ Advice Guide to Travel Insurance.


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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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