The U.S. has updated requirements for international air travel. From testing to mask mandates, here’s what you need to know before booking a flight.
Medical professionals say those with chronic illness can travel safely by taking extra precautions.Always wear a mask, preferably a KN95 or N95, she says, especially on airplanes and when in close proximity to other people.You should have a list of your medications and dosages (in different languages), in case you lose them or must go to a hospital outside of your network.
The last 20 months have changed almost all aspects of daily life. And if you have a chronic health condition, and have travel planned, there are added precautions you should implement to protect yourself even more.
We asked health experts for advice about how those who live with chronic health conditions can plan ahead and stay safer. So if you’re visiting relatives or friends for the holidays, or just have a long-awaited trip planned, here’s how you safely can enjoy a reunion with loved ones and your pent-up wanderlust.
In general, medical professionals say those with chronic illness can travel safely by taking extra precautions. However, in the era of COVID-19, more of a risk/benefit analysis should be considered to determine if the travel makes sense with your condition.
You’ll want to keep your health needs at the top of your to-do list.
What precautions should someone with a chronic illness take while traveling?
“First, make sure you are vaccinated and have gotten your booster,” says Alaina Brinley Rajagopal, a Southern California-based emergency medicine physician. The next step is to evaluate the location to which you are traveling.
Rajagopal suggests asking these questions: Are infections rising there? Are there precautions in place for everyone – for vaccinated travelers and for unvaccinated travelers?
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She stresses the importance of understanding testing, masking and social-distancing regulations at your destination.
Always wear a mask, preferably a KN95 or N95, she says, especially on airplanes and when in close proximity to other people.
“Mask fit is very important for effectiveness so be sure it fits firmly against your face and stays over your mouth and nose at all times,” Rajagopal says. “Stay at least six feet away from other people and avoid large group gatherings whenever possible.”
If you are gathering with family and friends for the holidays, an outdoor setting is preferable. If your doctor is supportive of your travel plans, Rajagopal says it’s vital to have a discussion about what to do if your condition should worsen. You should also know where the local medical facilities are and how to access them.
Finally, make sure you have enough of your medications to last the trip plus a bit extra in case there are delays or you have to be quarantined, she says.
Whether traveling in the U.S. or internationally, check in with your health care professional well in advance before your trip. (Photo: USA TODAY)
You should bring enough medication for your trip but also pack extra medication.
“Before the pandemic, I recommended one week of extra medication but in the era of COVID-19, I usually recommend 2-3 weeks of extra medication just in case of a quarantine situation,” Dr. Rajagopal advises.
Whether you are traveling or not, you should have a list of your medications and dosages, in case you lose them or must go to a hospital outside of your network, she says.
To provide an added layer of protection, you also may want to consider wearing a bracelet or necklace listing your medical conditions. In addition, always keep your medical supplies close.
“You should always pack your medications in your carry-on, never in your checked luggage,” cautions Rajagopal.
If you have dietary restrictions, travel can present added risks. “Try to pack some snacks that you can eat in case your meal requirements aren’t available while you’re in transit,” she recommends.
Getting there needs some planning, as well
Since air travel has mandated mask requirements, planes are relatively safe, says Rajagopal. However, it can be difficult to predict who your seatmates are and how compliant they will be regarding the regulations.
“Try to travel with family or close friends so that you can occupy an entire row on the aircraft and distance yourself from others,” she says.
“Ideally, your destination should have masking, social distancing, and entry testing requirements to maximize safety,” Rajagopal adds. “Once you have determined that your destination is safe enough for you to travel, you should visit your doctor and discuss your individual condition and any extra precautions you may need to take.”
Be aware of your surroundings.
“While current regulations ask people not to travel if they are sick, it is possible someone will still fly while ill,” she says. “If you are seated next to someone who is coughing, or appears unwell, you may want to explain your condition to a flight attendant and ask to move next to someone who is not coughing.”
How to plan for international travel
So whether traveling in the U.S. or internationally, check in with your health care professional well in advance before your trip.
“Depending on your specific condition, the advice may be different,” says Jan Carney, Associate Dean for Public Health & Health Policy, Professor of Medicine and Director, Graduate Public Health Programs at Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.
International travel may require additional preparation. Before you go, check on your specific health insurance coverage. Will you be covered in a different U.S. state if you need medical care? What about international travel?
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Carney stresses you should know how and where to get health care if you need it. “Check in advance about local hospitals and clinics in the area where you will be staying. If you need a specialist, ask your health care professional for a recommendation before you leave,” continues Carney.
Also, if you are visiting a foreign country, Rajagopal advises making sure you know how to translate words “help,” “hospital,” “emergency,” plus the names for your particular medical conditions in that language.
Rajagopal also suggests you have your medical conditions written down in the language of the country to which you’re traveling so you can show the doctor if needed.
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Try and stick to your normal routines
Whether it’s taking your prescription medication at proper times, sticking to a healthy diet, staying hydrated and exercising, don’t underestimate the importance of your own health habits.
“Keep your best health routine for sleeping, eating, and taking any medications you need,” says Carney. “This is especially important for longer trips. Remember to drink plenty of water, wear comfortable clothes, and stretch or walk around on long flights.”