Getting Medical Clearance to Fly

June 18, 2015
Amber Bauer, ASCO staff

The process of traveling is filled with enough stress—packing, security lines, flight delays. However, people with cancer have other worries too. Just a few months ago, a woman with cancer wasn’t allowed to fly because she told an airline employee she sometimes felt “weak” and didn’t have a doctor’s note clearing her to travel.

According to the World Health Organization, airlines can refuse to carry passengers with medical conditions that may get worse or cause serious consequences during the flight. Airline staff members are encouraged to “passively” screen (PDF) passengers for potential health issues by looking for signs such as persistent coughing, vomiting, looking “unwell,” or hearing someone mention having a recent surgery or terminal illness.

Still, simply having cancer isn’t enough to keep you from flying. However, it does mean having to do a bit more planning and preparation beforehand, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms or side effects or may appear ill as a result of treatment.

Talking with your doctor

It is important to talk with your doctor while you are planning your trip to get advice about appropriate arrangements and find out about any potential risks. share on twitter Your doctor will take into account your overall health, including any symptoms and side effects you may be experiencing; your treatment schedule; the distance to your destination; and the mode of transportation you will be using.

If your doctor says you can safely fly, ask him or her to write a letter on official stationery that specifically states your medical condition, treatment plan, medications, and your ability to travel.

Getting permission from the airline

Sometimes a note from your doctor may not be enough for certain airlines. To make sure you aren’t delayed or unable to travel, check with the airline about specific requirements they have regarding health, mobility, oxygen, and medical devices. share on twitter 

Most airlines provide medical clearance cards or forms on their websites. They often have to be completed and submitted a few days before your scheduled flight. Sometimes these forms require information provided by your doctor, so planning is key.

Special “Frequent Traveler’s Medical Cards” may also be available for regular travelers who need special assistance or medical clearance for a stable medical condition. In general, most airlines accept this card as sufficient proof that you have medical clearance to fly. Check with the airline you usually travel with for more information.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Am I healthy enough to fly to my destination?

  • Are there any special accommodations I should arrange with the airline?

  • Are there any risks associated with flying that I should be aware of?

  • Can you write a letter explaining my diagnosis, treatment, and ability to travel?

  • Whom should I call if I experience any problems while traveling?

  • Is there anything else I should know about traveling with cancer?