Are you dealing with a cough and wondering if you should still get on a flight?
In today’s world, it’s a question worth thinking about and there are a few key considerations you should think about before you choose to fly.
Below, I will break down what you need to know when trying to decide if you should still get on a plane when you are dealing with a cough.
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Can you still fly if you have a cough?
If you are battling with a cough you can still fly on a plane. However, if you have other symptoms, especially those associated with a contagious disease such as a fever, you may be denied boarding and you should rethink your travels.
Keep reading below for more insight on this question!
And note: You should always consult a medical doctor before making any decisions that could impact your health. This article does not contain medical advice.
The rule of thumb
Typically, airlines will only deny boarding if they believe the passenger has a contagious disease or other condition that could create a health or safety threat while on the flight.
A cough is a very common symptom of contagious viruses like the flu or coronavirus, so we often associate it with people who are contagious.
However, if you are just dealing with a cough, you may not have a contagious disease or present a health threat chiefly because many noncommunicable conditions often cause coughs.
Let’s take a look at some of those conditions.
Common (non-contagious) causes of coughs
We tend to associate coughing with colds and viruses but a lot of conditions can cause people to cough. These include causes like:
- Lung cancer
- Medications called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Neuromuscular conditions
- Post nasal drip
For some people, these conditions could result in intense coughs that could resemble contagious conditions.
This is important for two reasons.
First, as passengers we need to be careful with our assumptions about others.
Try not to assume that the passenger coughing is being inconsiderate to others because they may be dealing with a cough caused by a chronic condition (and a condition that is not transmissible).
Second, while airlines will deny boarding to people who they believe pose a threat, because so many conditions can cause a cough, it would be very risky (legally and from a PR standpoint) for them to deny boarding to people with just a cough.
Imagine the backlash if an airline told a lung cancer patient that they can’t fly to get to their treatment because they were coughing too much.
Should you travel with a cough?
If you’re trying to decide if you should travel when you have a cough, consider these factors.
Do you possibly have something transmissible?
If you know that you have a harmful virus that is transmissible like coronavirus then you should not travel.
If you were recently exposed to someone who had a potentially serious transmissible condition and you are now showing a cough, you may now have something contagious. By flying you are putting other passengers at risk of catching that.
So reconsider flying but if you must, wear a proper mask.
Just a cough
If you only have a cough and do not present a fever, the chills, or any other symptom associated with a harmful virus or contagious condition, airlines and fellow passengers should be more understanding.
That’s because it’s not uncommon for people to have a lingering cough several weeks after dealing with a virus. And as mentioned above, lots of non-contagious conditions can cause coughs.
While it might make some passengers uncomfortable, you should not feel like you can’t travel just because you have a cough. At a certain point, we as a society have to “get over” being afraid of anyone who exhibits a cough in public.
Are you just now getting a cough?
If you just woke up one day with a cough in the morning and you have a flight later that day, it may not be a good decision to get on the flight.
The reason is that you could become sick during the flight. And if things got really bad, the flight could be forced to do an emergency landing.
When I came down with coronavirus, I had a really light cough when I woke up that morning but by the evening time I was in pretty bad shape with a fever, chills, and nausea.
If I would have had a flight and chosen to fly out that afternoon, that would’ve been a terrible situation.
I know from experience that symptoms like nausea can be intensified when flying. And it’s a bad feeling to be trapped in a plane for hours when you feel very ill.
So until you know what you’re dealing with, you may want to put off flying.
How bad is the cough?
Another big thing to think about is how bad is the cough?
Are you coughing every couple of minutes and going into coughing frenzies?
If your cough is really bad, you may draw the attention of the crew and they could decide that you are not fit to fly, particularly if you are exhibiting other symptoms.
If you have a bad cough but you know that it is caused by something that is not contagious then it might be worth conveying that to the crew. Just let them know, “Hey, I took this blood pressure medication that causes me to cough really bad and there is basically nothing I can do about it.”
This could help the crew to “have your back” in the event other passengers were complaining. They may even be able to bring you water and help you out.
Where are you sitting?
Where you choose to sit on the plane could be pretty important.
The worst place for you to sit would be in a middle seat in economy between two or three people that you don’t know.
People will naturally feel uncomfortable if you are coughing a lot right next to them which is why I would strongly recommend to wear a mask.
Taking a window seat is probably your best bet as you could sort of lean in to the window area if you’re coughing versus the aisle seat which would have you coughing right into the open area of the airplane.
You can also purchase an extra seat if you want to create more distance between you and other people.
For example, I was dealing with a cough recently and so Brad and I purchased an extra economy seat (with miles) so that in our row we did not have to sit next to any stranger.
Wearing a mask?
Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a hot button, political issue.
Personally, I think that if you are exhibiting symptoms like a cough you should wear a mask when flying.
Even if you don’t believe that a mask helps with limiting the spread of a virus, I guarantee you that a high percentage of people on your flight do hold that belief.
By wearing a mask when you are coughing, you will at the very least help put a lot of people at ease.
Visiting a lounge
If you have a bad cough you may want to consider arriving to the airport a little bit later so that you can spend less time in a lounge or just avoid spending any time in the lounge.
If I was dealing with a noticeable cough I would probably check out the lounge and see if I could find me a good seat, away from open areas with lots of people. If I could, I wouldn’t mind spending time in there with a mask on.
But if you enter a crowded lounge and you are very close to other people and coughing up a storm, that’s a situation I would try to avoid at all costs. Your air travel may be essential but your lounge time is not.
Preboarding is designed for people who need assistance or extra time when boarding. It’s not really designed for people who are sick per se but you could still talk to an agent about getting preboarding if you were dealing with a noticeable cough.
The idea would be that you could avoid standing (coughing) near others during boarding if they allow you to pre-board. Not every airline may go for this but it is worth a shot, especially since you can self identify for pre-boarding.
After coronavirus, it’s understandable that a lot of people are on edge around others who are showing signs of a contagious virus by coughing.
However, we have to remember that coughing can be caused by many conditions including a lot of things that are completely non-transmissible.
Because of that, people should be allowed to fly even if they are coughing. They just need to take certain precautions like wearing a mask and choosing a good seat.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.