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Janet Freeman-Daily is a writer, speaker, science geek and epatient with metastatic lung cancer. She uses her systems engineering background to translate the experience and science of lung cancer treatment and research into language other patients can understand. She comoderates the Lung Cancer Social Media (#LSCM) Chat on Twitter and blogs at www.grayconnections.wordpress.com.

Can I Fly When I Have Cancer?

Planning a flight on a domestic or international airline? If you have active cancer, do your homework first.
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Many patients with active cancer can fly safely. If you have concerns about your fitness for flying, ask your doctor -- some cancer patients (such as those who have had lung-related problems, edema, or recent surgery) might be at risk for complications if they fly. Cancer Research UK’s brief list addresses situations when you shouldn’t fly. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s online article offers general tips about traveling with cancer.

However, even though you and your doctor think you can fly safely, sometimes the airline might prevent you from flying. Did you know airline employees have the right to deny boarding to anyone who, in their judgement, is too sick to fly or doesn’t meet their medical device regulations? It doesn’t happen often to cancer patients, but it does happen.

In April 2015, an Alaskan Airlines flight attendant took multiple myeloma patient Elizabeth Sedway off her flight because she thought Ms. Sedway looked sick and did not have a doctor’s note saying she was cleared to fly. In November 2013, US Airways flight attendants kept lung cancer patient Penny Blume from boarding the second flight of her cross-country trip because they said she did not have sufficient battery life remaining for her portable oxygen device. In May 2011, a Korean Air ticket agent refused a boarding pass to metastatic breast cancer patient Crystal Kim even though she carried approval to fly from her doctor, because the agent insisted the airline’s medical team should determine her fitness to fly. Though these situations were frustrating for the travelers, and the situations could have been handled better, the airlines were within their rights to deny boarding.

Because airlines are held accountable for the safety of their passengers and crew, each airline determines which passengers can safely travel in their airplanes. Airline employees who interact with passengers are instructed to “passively” screen passengers for health risks such as persistent coughing, recent surgery, or mention of terminal illness. Many airlines follow the recommendations in the International Air Transport Association’s Medical Manual and Aerospace Medical Association’s Medical Guidelines for Airline Travel. The IATA Medical Manual specifically states the following:

“Medical clearance is required by the airline’s medical department if the passenger…has a medical condition which may be adversely affected by the flight environment.”

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
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