If you’re jetting off to far-flung destinations, it’s important to be comfortable during your long haul flight. Air travel can take its toll on you physically, even more so if you or someone with you has a medical condition.
We’re no strangers to air travel, especially with medical conditions, so here are our top tips to help make your journey as trouble-free as possible:
Simple things can make all the difference:
- A travel pillow and eye mask to get some shut eye even when the lights are on and the window blinds are up; ear plugs if you’re near chatterboxes or children; and perhaps a lightweight blanket if the air conditioning gets icy.
- Loose, layered clothing, along with comfy socks and shoes that you can undo easily at the laces.
- On the other hand, if you get swelling in your ankles and legs (perhaps from travel-related DVT), loose might not always be the answer: compression stockings can be a great help. A good chemist should help you get the right size – Class 1 stockings which exert a pressure of 14-17 mmHg at the ankle are generally recommended.
- Book an aisle seat so that you can stretch as much as possible and go to the toilets without disturbing the other people in your row. Moving about the cabin frequently keeps your blood circulation flowing and helps avoid stiff joints.
- If you want to avoid children, book a seat away from the front of the plane where you will find most of the provisions for babies on long-haul flights.
- For maximum space, choose a seat with extra leg room or opt for one in the emergency exit rows.
- Pack hand-luggage sized toiletries (basic things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitiser and hair brush) to make you feel a little fresher when you land.
Food and drink
- Most long-haul flights offer a meal service but bear in mind that aircraft food is notorious for being high in calories and 20-30% higher in sugar and salt than on the ground to compensate for the cabin conditions – this will only dehydrate you.
- You might consider bringing your own healthy meals and slow-energy release snacks instead, particularly if you have a medical condition requiring a special diet. Alternatively, ask the airline if it offers a different meal to suit your dietary needs.
- It’s said that the air in the plane’s cabin contains 10-15% humidity, which is actually drier than the Sahara Desert. This, along with reduced oxygen in the atmosphere can take its toll so remember to drink plenty of water, avoiding fizzy drinks, alcohol and caffeine which only aggravate dehydration. Dehydration is known to adversely affect your mood and health reducing your attention span, memory, cognitive abilities, as well as making you more likely to feel tired and irritable.
Doctor’s advice and medications
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition, always ask your doctor if you are fit for travel before departing.
- Keep your medications in their original packaging with the manufacturer’s label so that airport security and customs officials can identify them right away.
- For some medical conditions you will need to make a few preparations with the airlines first. For example:If you’re a diabetes patient who uses a pump or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you should contact the airline a few weeks before you fly as you may need to fill in a form to confirm you need to fly with the equipment.
Asthma patients might need to bring along portable oxygen supplies or a nebuliser – check that the airline can cater for this before you book.
- You might need a licence to take some medicines overseas, particularly morphine based pain killers which are often classed as Controlled Drugs. Check with the relevant embassy beforehand and if you need one, make sure you apply well in advance at your hospital, hospice or GP.
- Finally, bring a doctor’s letter stating details of your medical condition plus the names and dosages of your medicines – that way you’ll have it ready should an emergency arise on holiday. It is also useful information should your medications go astray and you need to replace them whilst abroad.
- Book priority boarding so you can get to your seat easily, before the rush of other passengers.
- Don’t forget that European regulations oblige all airport authorities to assist anyone with mobility difficulties – they’ll help with anything from carrying your luggage to mobility buggies and wheelchair assistance. This is easy to arrange: simply notify the airline 48 hours in advance or go directly to the help points at most airports.
For more ideas, the NHS Travel Health Checklist offers a wealth of advice on travelling with medical conditions.