Passengers with chronic diseases. What is worth paying attention to when preparing for a flight?

Reading time 🕗 4 minutes | April 26, 2024 | The material was prepared by

The cabin pressure in most passenger aircraft corresponds to that at 2400-2500 meters above sea level. For our body, therefore, a flight means a trip to Rysy peak that lasts about twenty minutes — because that's how long it takes to ascend — and that's from the altitude of Warsaw, Krakow or Gdansk, not from the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, explains Kajetan Gawarecki, an expert in anesthesiology and intensive care nursing, who also deals with air medical transport. So what rules should passengers diagnosed with chronic diseases such as cardiac problems, asthma, or diabetes follow? In the following material, we provide all the necessary answers to this question. 

✅ From this article you will learn:

  • What to pay attention to when struggling with chronic diseases and planning air travel.
  • What to know before traveling, in case of diabetic diseases.
  • What to remember, in case of air travel with cardiovascular diseases. 
  • How to prepare for a flight, suffering from asthma.

Pressure changes in aircraft — this is worth knowing

Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes, which operate long-haul flights on LOT Polish Airlines, maintain a pressure equivalent to 1,800-1900 meters above sea level during flight, which is about the same as at the height of Giewont or Kasprowy Wierch. These few hundred meters of difference in pressure sensation can be particularly important for people with chronic ailments. However, it is worth noting that although the cabin pressure during a standard flight is lower than the pressure on land, it is still acceptable for the human body.

The change in pressure can manifest itself as an unpleasant sensation of ear plugging. Here, however, how our body is built comes to the rescue: thanks to the connection between the eardrum cavity and the throat, this pressure can be equalized via the auditory trumpet. So what can help? For example, frequent swallowing of saliva, chewing gum, sucking on a dissolvable candy or.... yawning. 

The longer the flight, the greater the fatigue of being in conditions of reduced access to oxygen. A healthy body compensates for this deficit in various ways, such as accelerating breathing and heart rate slightly, making air travel completely comfortable. Some people may, on a flight that lasts for hours, develop symptoms related to the change in pressure. Passengers with respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cancer, or with circulatory failure, unstable coronary artery disease, or, for example, in the case of children, a heart defect or significant anemia. All of which exacerbate oxygen deficiency in the tissues, should seek medical advice before departure. This will ensure that their trip will be safe. For longer trips that involve a change in time, the timing of medication should be planned accordingly so as not to lead to bodily dysfunction, explains Kajetan Gawarecki.

Passenger enjoys LOT Business Class benefits on board Dreamliner

Diabetic on board

Diabetes is estimated to affect up to three million people in Poland. The disease is not a contraindication to high-altitude travel. There is also no conclusive evidence to suggest that people with diabetes are more likely to suffer increased discomfort. It is worth noting, however, that large changes in altitude, temperature and decreases in activity can impact blood sugar levels, which may necessitate the administration of insulin.

Fortunately, diabetics can take medications like glucagon and other necessary items to control the disease in their carry-on luggage. It's also a good idea to bring a doctor's certificate and have a “plan B”: patients who use an insulin pump should take a supply of insulin injections or spare batteries for the pump. Likewise with a continuous blood glucose monitoring system: remember spare accessories, batteries, charger or disinfectant liquid before inserting the sensor.

Woman eating a meal and drinking juice on board an airplane

Sound education and good preparation before traveling will help diabetics have a successful and enjoyable time. It is worth remembering, for example, to have a small sweet snack on hand. If a diabetic is traveling with medications or medical equipment, he or she should remember to bring a doctor's certificate and document the condition, concludes Dr. Justyna Kaźmierczak, Ph. 

Air travel for people with cardiac problems

People who face cardiovascular problems on a daily basis should always consult with their health care provider before air travel. There are certain contraindications that should be taken into account before planning a flight. These include a myocardial infarction suffered 7-10 days prior to travel, an exacerbation of coronary artery disease, or uncontrolled arrhythmia. However, if the aforementioned contraindications do not affect the prospective traveler, such a person can freely pursue air travel.

Flight safety also depends on how long the trip will be. It is worth bearing in mind that longer flights of several hours for people with cardiovascular problems may require special preparation. Such a person should absolutely take all necessary medications: especially anticoagulants: on board the plane, as well as medical records. It is also a good idea to inform the flight attendants about the possibility of aggravated ailments. During the duration of the flight, it is also advisable to walk around the plane once every hour or so and perform simple exercises that will reduce the likelihood of venous congestion.  

active seniors traveling by plane, man sleeping, woman smiling and enjoying entertainment on board

For my patients who are struggling with hypertension or heart disease, I always recommend a check-up visit before a planned trip. This is to see if they have an adequate supply of medication, what their blood pressure is, and how they react to a stressful situation such as an airplane flight. It's important to remember that it's the passenger's health that is key, as the environment on board an airplane itself is by no means dangerous, explains Dr. Aleksandra Szymańska, a specialist in internal medicine. 

Asthmatic's peaceful journey

If the passenger remains in good physical condition, under constant medical care, airplane flight should not be a difficulty for him. Asthmatics may experience changes, usually resulting from reduced pressure in the aircraft cabin, causing breathing difficulties. In such moments, you can always count on the support of cabin crew, who are prepared for such situations. You can also take a mobile inhaler in your carry-on luggage, the capacity of which will not exceed 100 ml. 

Woman with asthma while traveling

What distinguishes the air in an airplane from that on the ground is not only the lower pressure, but also the humidity, or rather the lack of it. The air is dry, the humidity in the cabin is only a few: a dozen percent, recalls Kajetan Gawarecki.


It is important to remember that flying by air is one of the safest transportation options in the world, which is primarily due to extremely strict safety procedures and the possibility of receiving professional support from cabin crew.

Any person with a diagnosed chronic disease, whose health condition is stable and whose attending physician does not see any contraindications to flying, can enjoy the opportunities offered to passengers by air travel. What we should always be guided by, however, is the safety of our health therefore, if anything raises doubts: always, before planning a flight, consult a doctor. 

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