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Safe air travel

Created date

March 27th, 2014

As the weather warms up, our thoughts turn to travel. As you plan your trip, especially one that requires a plane ride, you may wonder if you can tolerate the logistics of air travel—leaving home, getting to the airport, arriving at the gate,  having an uneventful flight, and safely making it to your destination. The good news is that by following a few simple steps you can get the help and support you need.  

Your airport and flight experience really begins when you book your reservation. That is the best time to put in special requests such as airport wheelchair transportation or special security, boarding, or seating requests. The airlines want your business, and you may even get a senior-discount fare. For extra help for the trip to and from the airport, consider a medical transportation company such as the Independent Transport Network of America or a volunteer group in your area. You can also arrange for services when you arrive at the airport through the airline you are flying with or through a private concierge service. 

Fit to fly?

While the logistics can be overcome, you may still be wondering if it’s safe to fly if you have a significant medical illness. One concern is the mildly lower oxygen level on flights. Airlines pressurize their cabins to the equivalent elevation of 5,000–8,000 feet above sea level, so if you have lung or active heart disease, you should review your status with your physician and determine if it’s safe to fly. Your physician may do a simple test of your oxygen level in the office and, if necessary, supplemental oxygen can be arranged with your airline.

The other potential risk of flying is related to prolonged sitting, which increases the risk of developing a blood clot (typically in the leg) known as a deep venous thrombosis. You can mitigate this risk by getting up and walking occasionally and by exercising your leg (especially calf) muscles while seated. Drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages can also be a preventive measure. Some who are at an increased risk because of a clotting disorder or recent surgery may need to take certain medications before flying or wear compression stockings during the flight.

Take your medicines in a carry-on—have enough on hand to last about two weeks longer than your planned stay. You should also have a summary of your medical history, treatments, and current medications in case you need medical care while away. If you are traveling abroad, find out if you will need additional immunizations.

While air travel may seem like a daunting task, it’s almost always worth the extra effort to get away and enjoy a much deserved family get-together or excursion. And don’t forget, a relative or friend is allowed to wait for you at the gate if you make prior arrangements with the airlines.