Doctors Urge Travelers Not to Fly With Flu

Several airlines charge fees to cancel nonrefundable tickets, but some offer flexibility for customers

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A Chicago emergency room doctor is urging people not to fly if they have the flu, but some travelers say the only way out of their flight involves paying a hefty price.

As flu season carries on, doctors are reporting more cases of the flu in people who have traveled recently.

“I've had several patients in the past two to three weeks who have tested positive for the flu, who have been traveling, who said they couldn't cancel their flight, it was too expensive, and they decided to travel anyway,” said emergency room physician Rachel Goldstein with Thorek Memorial Hospital.

Goldstein said she is urging people not to travel if they are sick and can avoid it.

“It spreads quickly,” she said. “It’s recycled air. Once that person coughs or sneezes that virus just flies in the air.”

A simple cough transformed into a life-threatening battle with the flu in a matter of days for a Chicago man, and now he's sharing his harrowing story. NBC 5's Chris Hush has the details.

Several airlines charge fees to cancel non-refundable tickets, but some offer flexibility for customers.

American Airlines said it reviews each situation on a case-by-case basis.  The Delta website said cancellation fees for non-refundable tickets start at $200 and the remaining value is provided as credit to be used toward another ticket. However, Delta said it offers situational flexibility.

Southwest Airlines told NBC 5 is does not charge fees to change or cancel tickets.  Funds may be available as a credit and there may be a fare difference if a customer rebooks a flight.

“Always check the fine print to see what’s covered, but travel insurance is something that would help get your money back if you get sick and aren’t able to travel,” said travel expert Brett Snyder with Cranky Concierge.

According to Snyder, booking through a travel agency may provide a benefit because agents may have connections with airlines that could improve a sick customer’s chances for a cancellation fee waiver

Goldstein said those with a fever over 100 degrees should not get on a plane. It's a message echoed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says "if you are sick with symptoms of influenza-like illness, you should not travel."

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue, officials say. Some may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.

Dr. Rachel Goldstein, a Chicago emergency room physician, has an important message for people considering flying with the flu.

The CDC also notes that not everyone with the flu will experience a fever.

"If you are sick, stay home until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever, or signs of a fever without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol," the CDC's website reads.

Goldstein said flu symptoms can last up to a week, and while it may be late in the season, it’s not too late to take precautions.

“The flu season can go into April,” she said. “You should get a flu shot now if you have not already.”

The CDC urges travelers to get vaccinated at least two weeks before travel.

Travel experts suggest contacting an airline’s customer relations department to explain the situation, but that won’t necessarily guarantee travelers won’t have to pay a fee.

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