Being Too Sick to Fly & What Delta Did That Shocked & Amazed Me!

too sick to fly
Aerial view at Ocean Blue & Sand. I was supposed to be arriving today.

Flying While Sick

Have you ever been booked to travel and then found yourself really sick? Thus far I have been fairly lucky considering how much I fly, but it has happened to me. A couple of years ago I booked a $170ish mistake fare from New York to Milan and then from Prague to Hong Kong. After spending a week in Europe, I boarded my flight for Hong Kong with a developing cough.

Let’s just say that getting no sleep and being cooped up for 11 hours turned that developing cough into something much worse. It was so bad that I was bedridden in Hong Kong for 2 of the 3 days I was there. Just as I was feeling slightly better I had to fly home. I had booked a ticket from HKG-JFK-LAX in Cathay Pacific first and then AA first so I could both maximize my time in the Cathay cabin and also so I could try the AA 321T for the first time without spending extra miles.

While I had been feeling slightly better before my flight and while the cabin was much more comfortable than the coach experience on the flight from Europe, all of the travel had weakened me. By the time I arrived home I was so sick that it took two full weeks for me to recover and I honestly did not even feel well enough to enjoy either first class product. Lesson learned.

Cancelling a Trip

too sick to fly
Aerial view at Ocean Blue & Sand

Last night I was supposed to get onto a redeye flight to New York and then this morning I was to fly to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic to stay at what looks to be a beautiful all-inclusive resort, the Ocean Blue & Sand. They had asked me to visit so I could review the property and had paid for my flight, but unfortunately something happened. Starting on Sunday I developed a cold and while I had hoped it would be minor or go away, by yesterday it had progressed into a fever and bad cough. I’ll never forget how long it took me to recover from that Hong Kong trip and suddenly I had flashback.

With my flights to Punta Cana involved about 16 hours of travel time including a redeye to New York (I can never sleep on airplanes when sitting up), I knew it would end badly if I got on that place. Since I wasn’t going to make it on the flight, I started to look into options for getting the ticket changed or cancelled.

Delta to the Rescue

Privilege Junior Suite partial ocean view at Ocean Blue & Sand. This looks better than being stuck at home sick.
Privilege Junior Suite partial ocean view at Ocean Blue & Sand. This looks better than being stuck at home sick.

At first I tried to cancel the ticket online, but the system wouldn’t allow that. Since I wasn’t feeling up to a phone call, I hit Delta up on Twitter instead. In a Direct Message I explained my situation and asked them to cancel the ticket. I knew there would be a hefty cancellation fee, but at least the money minus the fee would be available for use later. After conversing with them back and forth, I almost fell off the couch when they said the following:

I am very sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well. If you would like to cancel your ticket and use it at a later time, I can waive the change fee for you as a one time exception.

Wow! We can say a lot about Delta with their devaluations to SkyMiles, but they really have customer service nailed. I am not a Delta elite, but I do have Alitalia Gold status, but I doubt that is why they did this. Either way, Delta was incredibly generous to allow me to cancel the ticket. I fly American most often as an Executive Platinum and I honestly do not believe they would do something similar.

Thanks to Delta’s generosity the money is now there in the form of a credit and while I am not feeling much better today, I hope that changes soon so I can perhaps get to Punta Cana to review Ocean Blue & Sand because I am still conflicted about not getting there today as promised and because it looks like an awesome place to spend a couple of days.

Flying While Sick?

All of this has gotten me to think about the subject of flying while sick and I am honestly interested in your opinion on the matter. In this case I feel like I made the right choice not only because I would have probably arrived in much worse shape, but also because I didn’t want to expose others to whatever I have. On my previous trip I was away from home so it made a bit more sense to fly, but in hindsight I would have rested up and re-booked once well.

Have you ever faced a situation where you were too ill to fly or where you decided to fly anyway despite being sick? Has an airline gone out of their way to help in such a situation? Does it matter if you are traveling for work or just going on a vacation? Do you think sick people on planes are being selfish considering they are exposing others to their germs?

Please share your thoughts on the subject. I’ll be reading them as I sit here resting and trying to get better!

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  1. Oh that is bad to be sick before the travel. You are lucky that you cancel the trip without losing any money. Thats great.

  2. Happened to my husband – a few times.

    One time we were scheduled to go to Hawaii – booked many, many months earlier on awards on UA with business class on the redeye return HNL-EWR. My husband had a heart palpitation and saw a cardiologist – his letter got all but a small administrative fee refunded, think it was $25 each ticket, and these were awards booked from our separate UA accounts. Turns out it was nothing major, and we rebooked everything for 3 months later. We actually re-arranged the flights for a better interisland itinerary, and luckily got business on that HNL-EWR redeye again! And I was able to re-book our 4 free nights at the Andaz Maui. So, luckily it all worked out.

    This past April, about 6 days before we were to fly Alitalia from JFK to Sicily on a Delta award, my husband went to a business meeting and came down with severe bronchitis thanks to a severely ill colleague (@PDXDealsGuy, I hear you on this one!). It necessitated a trip to the doctor when his condition worsened. Doctor said he was bordering on pneumonia, and advised against travel. Even though we were inside most of the cancellation penalty periods for some local hotels as well, I was able to cancel the entire trip – award flights, paid intra-Italy flights, hotels, rental car, and tours, and was out the grand total of $22.35 for one tour that had a minor admin cancellation fee. I did learn that Delta has a 72 hour window for cancelling awards without forfeiting the miles – that was a total surprise to me. However, the reps told me that with medical documentation, they would waive that for cancellations made up until the day of departure.

    For myself, some years ago, I caught a cold a day or so before flying home from Colorado, but I didn’t think it was much of anything. By the time my flight landed, I was really ill. Turns out I had severe bronchitis, which I passed to my husband, and we were both sick for around 10 days, until the antibiotics cleared things up. We’re older than you, so stuff like bronchial infections and possible pneumonia is not something to brush off. I want to have many more years of traveling.

    Hope you are feeling better and can go when you will be able to enjoy the trip.

  3. Hope you get better soon and back on with the trip. I had a similar great experience with Delta’s cust service this summer. My son developed a bad cough and high fever 1 day before a scheduled trip to Europe and we had a horrible all nighter nd took him to the emergency room. While waiting for the Doc gave a call to Delta to check my options…The agent was amazing and offered to rebook us (family of 5) for the same flight 3 days later. She changed and put all the new tix on hold so that I could call back to confirm after the doc visit if that day was still ok…I could not believe it…skeptically called back an hour later and a different agent quickly confirmed the notes in the booking as soon as I re-gave him the booking number, issued the tickets and wish us a happy trip…We all were flying on free miles. Will never forget this positive experience and no matter what happens with the pesos Delta is my first choice.

    • I doubt it because I used a different non Miles to Memories Twitter account and the only way they could have known anything was by my name. My SkyMiles number wasn’t even on the reservation since I put my Alitalia number on there to get priority benefits. Plus, the person offered right away which indicates that their support is empowered in a way that agents at American for example are not.

  4. Feel better, Shawn. I agree completely with your decision. Don’t get on a plane and: a) make yourself miserable, and b) expose others. I hate it when sick people come to work, for example. But the resort does look nice!


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