For most of us, skipping a trip because we don’t feel well is not an option. Unless it’s a matter of being unable to crawl out of bed, most people will board that flight to the stockholders meeting or Caribbean getaway, then tough out the cold and cough until the plane lands. I’m not saying that’s smart, I’m saying it’s what we do, especially in this era of non-refundable tickets, and especially if we got a great deal.

But whether you’re the one with the cold or are seated near someone sick, there are things you can do.

Key Takeaways

  • In this era of non-refundable flights, many of us have flown while sick .
  • Use hand-sanitizing wipes to clean your seat’s germ-magnets like tray tables.
  • Try not to look or sound sick; it could get you kicked off the plane.
  • Several airports now have walk-in urgent care medical facilities where you can get help.

1. Get some individually-wrapped hand-sanitizing wipes

These are cheap; you can get a box of 100 online or in a drugstore for less than $10. Then, use them! The big germ-magnets on planes are tray tables and seat-back touch-screens, so wipe those down first. You could also give the area your head will rest on a swipe along with the armrests, and be sure to wipe your hands after touching the lavatory door. Stay away from the seat-back pocket; it’s germy, but difficult to wipe. Finally, do not feel self-conscious about doing this. Others will be wiping too, and may even hit you up for your spares.

2. Bring a plastic zip bag or two

Use these to dispose of germy wipes and used tissues. If you simply stick them in the seat-back pocket, you may make someone else sick (or make yourself sicker, thanks to those nasty tissues you blew your nose on). Carefully seal the plastic bags shut and ditch them in the lavatory waste bins or in a trash cans after landing.

3. Take an over-the-counter symptom suppressor

It’s not unheard of for passengers to be denied boarding for being too sick; it happened during 2009’s well-publicized H1N1 pandemic and it can happen if a flight attendant thinks someone looks too sick to fly, or as it says in Delta’s contract of carriage, “When the passenger has a contagious disease that may be transmissible to other passengers.” One way to look better (maybe) is to grab your favorite over-the-counter cold/cough medication to suppress your symptoms.

4. Seek help at the airport

More and more airports have urgent care walk-in clinics inside the terminal, including Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/DFW, Los Angeles International, and San Francisco. Check your airport’s website to see if it has such a facility or just Google the airport name and “medical.”

5. Drink plenty of liquids

Drink lots of liquids (and by that we mean water). And, yes, even if you’re on an airline like Frontier or Spirit that charges for soft drinks, pay the money; it’s worth it. Better yet, bring an empty bottle through security, then find a water refill station (available in many airports).

6.) Stay home

As I said, many travelers won’t consider staying home if sick because they may get no value from their cancelled ticket. That's why travel insurance may be worth getting, especially for an expensive trip. Just be sure to read the fine print on the policy before you buy, to be certain it covers what you need it to cover. 

But if you don't have travel insurance, call the airline, anyway. Then politely ask if they can help you salvage the cost or part of it. Depending on the conditions of the ticket you purchased, they may say no, but I have personally seen enough examples of airline goodwill to say, give this a try.

And take care of yourself!