• Tanisha Smith

The flight attendant's guide to surviving flying while sick.

This blog post is brought to you by a very sick, very miserable few days. Cold and flu season is upon us ladies and gents and I'd like to offer you some tips to survive if you have the misfortune of needing to travel while sick.

I want to start this by saying if you can avoid flying while you are sick, you should, for a couple of reasons:

A. If you are congested in any way, you risk perforating an eardrum from the change in air pressure. If you've ever experienced not being able to pop your ears after take off or landing, imagine that on crack.

B. You are breathing in recycled air for the entire duration of your flight and although airplanes do their best to purify it, you are essentially spreading your germs to every other person who is trapped in this metal tube with you - including us, who have to work the return flight or the red-eye. Please don't share your germs to those of us working with reduced immune systems due to fatigue.

C. Airplanes, although cleaned, are still filthy. They are public transit. If you are already immune-compromised from illness and then you travel on what is effectively an incubation tank for germs and a breeding ground for bacteria chances are you aren't going to get off feeling any better.

Ok, ok Tanisha! We know we shouldn't fly while sick, but like what should we do if we HAVE to.

This is for you.

First of all, have a kit. I do! Mine includes the following:

Sudafed: preferably the one from the states, but the Canadian will do. The fda allows all kinds of trash into American pharmaceuticals but trust me it works. (Before you start screaming about how your body is a temple, and why would I put trash into my body stop and think if you have ever consumed alcohol, eaten fast food or anything with aspartame, artificial flavours or preservatives in it. I rest my case! We are talking emergencies here.) ** Pseudoephedrine in any form works, but I find Sudafed to be the most effective**

Take one of these half an hour before top (top of descent for those who aren't familiar with aviation lingo) or roughly one hour before landing. If you take it later than that, it's too late... you're screwed. Try again next time. May the odds be in your favour and I hope your eardrums don't pop. JK, kinda... you really shit the bed on this one but there are other things you can do.

Vicks inhaler decongestant stick: This baby has saved my ass more than once. It clears my nasal passage just enough for the air pressure to escape and avoid a busted eardrum. This is especially handy if I have forgotten to dose myself with Sudafed prior to landing. Plus I personally love the smell. Now I'm not making any guarantees and you still might cry like a baby on the way down but it might prevent permanent damage.

Gravol: I keep the non-drowsy ginger gravol on hand if I start to get nauseated. If you don't have to stay awake and functional, like I do, good old fashioned gravol will do the trick. Plus you get the added benefit of KO'ing for the flight, which is probably your best bet.

Hand Sanitizer: There are times that I can't get into the bathroom to wash my hands, and there will definitely be times you can't. OBEY THE DAMN SEATBELT SIGN. That being said I like to carry hand sanitizer to kill off the many, many germs I will be exposed to.

Kleenex/ whatever brand of tissues you like: Like I said, you don't always have access to the washroom, especially when you are sharing with 280 other people. Be prepared. Who wants to sit around with snot dripping out of their nose while because you can't get your hand on a kleenex. And no, you can't have mine. They are mine. Between my own use and lending to coworkers I go through enough. I DO NOT MAKE NEAR ENOUGH to provide my personal stash to passengers. Sorry, you are out of luck (This also goes for anything else on this list). I will of course bring you some, when I have time but on the long list of things I have to do, searching for a kleenex for you will probably be low on the list.

Before the flight:

Load up on vitamin C. I particularly love the effervescent tablets that you can drop in your water, but I also appreciate an EMERGEN-C sachet.

Oil of oregano, tastes like shit, burns like a bitch, but is effective. I am a firm believer that if it's awful, it's probably working.

Get a full night's sleep. I know it's easier said than done, but a full night of rest can really help with the stress of air travel. Plus rest is the best medicine for sickness.

For the flight:

Bring layers, airplanes can be cold and drafty and a thin airline blanket ain't gonna cut it. BRING LAYERS. You have been warned. Don't complain now, I told you to bring layers. Lots of layers.

Hot water bottle - don't laugh. Get a hot water bottle. If you bring a hot water bottle to the back, I will fill it up for you. I bring one with me to warm up in the frigid galleys. It will help with the earlier mentioned drafty aircraft.

Swell/manna/ insulated steel water bottle - Not only is it dual purpose. Hello hydration on a long flight. BUT it also allows you to have access to your own tea regardless of whether the seatbelt sign is on. ( No I will not serve you hot beverages while the seatbelt sign is on if you promise to be careful)

This brings me to teabags. Airplanes do not have a wide selection of teas, and if you are in economy you can have two kinds. Black tea or no tea. Load up on honey lemon, ginger, chamomile or whatever floats your boat and then throw a bag in insulated bottle. Trust me, it works.

Halls, mints, cough candies. Airplanes are dry and if your throat is sore, that fact is not going to help you in anyway. Something to suck on helps with keeping your mouth - moist? lubricated? both gross word, both effective.

While we are at it, bring lip chap. Since you are sick, you are probably breathing through your mouth a lot. Thus your lips are gonna "hurt real bad." (bonus points if you get the reference) I like to bring a good ol' vaseline with aloe. Mostly because it doubles as a cream if my poor nose is dry and sore from blowing.

Finally, the ultimate insider hack is to ask your flight attendant for hot cups. You would only ask for this if during descent your ears feel like they are going to explode.If you have tried every way possible to clear your ears to no avail these are for you. What are hot cups you might ask? Hot cups are literally what they sound like, hot cups. They are coffee cups stuffed with cloths or paper towel that has been soaked in hot water. You then place these cups over your ears and the heat and moisture some how breaks that horrific air pressure barrier, soothes the pain and prevents the ear drum from perforating.

Warning: these cups use hot water straight from the boiler so they are HOT. Make sure to try and get rid of excess water as much as possible or you may burn your ear. Also I cannot guarantee that this will work, but if you are out of options it's an excellent hail mary option.

I'm going to finish this off with saying, yet again, if you don't NEED to fly, DON'T. A vacation won't be much fun with a perforated eardrum, but if you absolutely must, I hope this list will help.




20-something travel junkie, coffee addict, bookworm, shopaholic, water baby, beach bum and thrill-seeker.

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  1. I’m a flight attendant. This blog is the result of a desire to share my adventures with the world. I have so many opportunities that I am so grateful for. I always wanted to travel and didn’t think I would ever be able to do it. I found this career path and now it’s my job.

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