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Air Travel for people affected by chest, heart or stroke illness

CHSS is not able to advise you whether it is safe for you to fly. As everyone is affected differently by chest, heart and stroke illness you might want to speak to your doctor to discuss any concerns or risks regarding your fitness to fly.

Who needs medical clearance to fly?

If you have any concerns about your fitness to fly you should contact your airline’s medical department before you intend to travel. This will allow your fitness to fly to be assessed and medical clearance obtained if necessary before you travel. It will also allow the airline staff to help you with early boarding and in-flight care if required.

You may need to obtain medical clearance if:plane

  • Your condition unstable
  • You have had a recent admission to hospital
  • You have recently had surgery
  • You require oxygen or other medical treatment onboard
  • You need to use medical equipment onboard

To determine whether you are medically fit to fly, you and your doctor will need to complete a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). This form can usually be found online on your airline’s website, or you can contact your airline’s medical department or your travel agent to get a MEDIF form. The completed form should be sent to your airline well in advance of your travel date.

If you need any special medical provision or assistance, your airline may also ask you to complete an Incapacitated Passengers Handling Advice (INCAD) form; sometimes the INCAD and MEDIF are two parts of the same form. INCAD and MEDIF forms are only valid for one journey.

If you travel frequently you could look into getting a Frequent Traveller’s Medical Card (FREMEC)from your airline’s medical department. It contains important medical information and replaces forms that previously had to be completed for each flight. Once you have registered, the airline’s reservations office records details of your requirements so that special assistance can be provided whenever you person fly. If you plan to travel with a different airline you should check if they will accept your FREMEC card.

Planning ahead

Once you are given the ‘green light’ you can start to look at whatever assistance you need to help you have a safe and comfortable flight.

If possible, try to think in advance about what help you may need when travelling and make any special arrangements with your airline, travel agent or tour operator. Ideally arrangements should be made when you book your flight. However, if you need help from airport or airline staff at any stage of your journey, you should always request this at least 48 hours before you fly. If you are making a last-minute booking then your airline should make a ‘reasonable’ effort to provide you with assistance.

Some things to consider in advance are:

  • Arrange to take a letter from your doctor with you, outlining your medical condition(s) and what medicines you are on.
  • Make sure you have adequate, valid travel insurance. (See the CHSS factsheet Insurance information for people affected by chest, heart and stroke illness for more information).
  • For travel in Europe, you should also have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).  You can apply for or renew an EHIC using the official EHIC online application form. This is free of charge. Beware of unofficial websites, which may charge if you apply through them. Note that the EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as being flown back to the UK. It is therefore important that you have both an EHIC and a valid private travel insurance policy.
  • Make sure you have sufficient supplies of all your medicines for the entire time that you are away.
  • If you need to take medicines that are liquids, creams or gels in packs larger than 100ml in your hand luggage, you will need a letter from your doctor and approvals from the airline before you travel. Check with your airline.
  • Make sure that you have a supply of emergency medicines (for example antibiotics or steroids) if appropriate, in case you have a flare up whilst you are away.
  • If you will need oxygen during the flight, this must be requested in advance and preferably at the time of booking.

Should I worry about DVT?

When flying, you may be sitting still for a long period of time. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot which can sometimes occur as a result of this inactivity, especially during a long-distance flight. Encouraging your circulation and avoiding dehydration will give you the best protection against blood clots forming.

The following simple measures will help reduce the risk of DVT

  • Make sure you have plenty of legroom. You may need to book this when you book your flight, or you may need to check in early.
  • Bend and stretch your legs and wiggle your feet at regular intervals (for example every 30 minutes) to encourage your circulation. Get up regularly if you can, for short walks
  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids throughout the journey; if necessary take your own bottle of water and take regular sips. Remember that alcohol and caffeine can contribute to dehydration.

Some people have a higher risk of developing DVTs (for example if you have a history of heart disease or stroke). Speak to your doctor about what measures you may need to take before flying. This may include graduated compression stockings, aspirin or anticoagulants.

The following links provide further information about air travel with chest, heart and stroke conditions.

Air Travel with a Chest Condition:

Air Travel with a Heart Condition:

Air Travel after a Stroke:

If you have any questions related to air travel with a chest, heart or stroke condition please contact the CHSS Advice Line Nurses on 0808 801 0899 (free from landlines and mobiles) Monday to Friday 9:30-4 pm or email adviceline@chss.org.uk

More information

The Airport Guides Network provide information to travellers who use the UK’s many airports, the Heathrow Airport Guide supplies information on what to consider if you are flying with a medical condition.