Imagine booking a holiday months in advance to catch a well earned break with your family and a few days before you are due to leave, your son or daughter gets chicken pox. What a nightmare!
Believe it or not, this does happen. It can sometimes even leave family travellers stuck abroad 😬. The decisions you have to make in a situation like this can be difficult and extremely stressful. We’ve experienced these types of scenarios first hand with some of our own travelling families, so we know the pain.
So, armed with our experience, we thought a comprehensive help guide would go a long way to supporting people in this situation. Here’s everything you need to know about flying with chickenpox so you know exactly what to do, where you stand and how you can get help…
What is chickenpox (Varicella)?
Chickenpox is a common virus that mostly affects young children, but can be caught at any age. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, and results in an itchy rash on the skin, in the form of red spots that then heal over.
- Aches and pains
- Loss of appetite
- Red itchy spots that eventually dry out and crust over
NHS verified stages of chickenpox
1. Chickenpox starts with red spots. They can appear anywhere on the body.
2. The spots fill with fluid and become blisters. The blisters may burst. They might spread or stay in a small area.
3. The spots scab over. More blisters might appear while others scab over.
How did my child get chickenpox?
Chickenpox is very contagious, it can be caught simply by being in the same room as someone who has it. It is also commonly spread by touching clothes/bedding/objects with fluid from chickenpox blisters on it. It spreads easily between people who have not suffered from the illness before but usually once you have had it once, you are immune.
In most cases, contracting the disease is nothing to worry about – but it can have serious implications for those who are elderly, pregnant, have low immune systems or are receiving treatment for other medical conditions such as cancer.
Most pregnant women and their unborn children who catch chickenpox are absolutely fine, but it is always worth consulting your GP as soon as possible if you suspect that you have contracted it.
Usually chicken pox clears itself up within a week and children won’t need to see a GP, although the rash itself can be a quite itchy and painful.
It can also be easily treated with over-the-counter medication such as ViraSoothe, but if it strikes at the wrong time (either at home or abroad) you may not be able to board your flight until your child has fully recovered.
If you are worried about this happening (i.e. your child hasn’t had it yet), consider arranging for your child to have the chickenpox vaccine via the NHS or a private clinic. Bear in mind that this is usually only given to children who are especially at risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system, such as living with a parent who is having chemotherapy.
Best methods to soothe chickenpox include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Put socks on your children’s hands at night to stop itching
- Cut your child’s nails
- Use cooling gels or creams
- Bathe in cool water and pat skin dry
- Dress in loose clothes
- Small dose of Paracetamol if in pain or feverish
Do not use ibuprofen or give aspirin to children aged under 16, it can worsen the effects of chicken pox on the skin and lead to more serious skin infections. Where possible, try and keep your infected child away from pregnant women, newborn babies or vulnerable individuals.
When to see a doctor:
You should contact your doctor immediately if:
- You’re not sure it is chickenpox
- The skin around blisters is red, hot or painful (it may be infected)
- If your child is dehydrated (dizzy, sunken eyes, dry lips, mouth and eyes)
- You suspect you have chickenpox and you are elderly, pregnant or receiving other significant medical treatment
- You have a newborn baby that you think may have chickenpox
- Your child seems to be getting worse or you have any serious concerns about them
Can you fly with chicken pox?
Overall the answer to that is no you can’t.
However, there are some differences depending on what stage of recovery your child is currently exhibiting and which airline you fly with. Unfortunately, even if your little one seems to have recovered from chickenpox, red spots can last for days after the contagious period is over so these details are important to be aware of.
Because chickenpox can have such serious consequences for potentially vulnerable passengers, most airlines have strict policies that can lead to some stressful conversations at customs or departure gates!
Officers may refuse entry to the country to anyone they suspect is contagious, regardless of whether you are travelling in or out of the UK. In some cases, a medical clearance note from your GP may be required. Before you travel, you should always check the chickenpox policy of your chosen airline.
What are the latest airline policies?
Airlines do have the right to refuse boarding to passengers that are unwell with chickenpox. As a rule, you are likely to be refused if the skin is visibly spotted. Here are the most up to date airline policies below:
Will we be allowed to fly? – Here’s some things to consider
- It can usually take roughly 1-3 weeks from the time of initial exposure for chickenpox spots to start appearing.
- The virus becomes infectious from 2 days before the spots start to appear and can continue to be contagious up to 5 days after the spots have disappeared.
- Usually when spots crust over, this is a sign that the disease is no longer contagious, although this does vary between individuals.
- Airlines usually err on the side of caution when it comes to chickenpox, as it can easily spread between passengers.
- For some passengers, contracting the disease may be life threatening. You should always consult your airline’s chickenpox policy.
- If you have concerns that you or someone you are travelling with may be denied boarding, then carry a letter from your GP to confirm you are no longer infectious.
- If someone in your party has or has recently had chickenpox, always contact your airline first, rather than risk being refused to board when you arrive at the airport.
- Even if an airline allows you to fly out to your destination, customs at the other end also still have the right to refuse entry to the country so be sure that you are no longer contagious and have a doctors letter to cover you.
What’s the difference between Chickenpox and other rashes?
Good question. You could be something less sinister such as heat rash or measles and not actually chickenpox. We always recommend seeking advice from a doctor however, we found a great breakdown of symptoms for similar rashes from Dr Sarah Jarvis MBE to help you self diagnose:
Ok, so how do I cover my family?
Because chickenpox can strike at any time, we always recommend taking out travel insurance immediately after you book your flights, and don’t leave this until the last minute. Many policies cover the cost of cancellation due to chickenpox, so do check that your policy covers this.
Also bear in mind that there is usually a period before cancellation cover protection becomes active, so read your chosen policy carefully to ensure you are as fully covered as possible. If you can’t prove that your policy was purchased before your child contracted chickenpox then your claim may be invalid, so purchase as soon as possible.
Airlines often have strict cancellation policies and may not be sympathetic to last minute cancellations as a result of chickenpox. If you can’t recover the costs from your insurance then a note from the doctor stating your children are ill and unfit to fly may help, but refunds will always be at the discretion of the airline and the associated conditions of their flight tickets.
If your child is in the process of recovering from chickenpox and is given permission to fly from the doctor, then you may want to explore the possibility of purchasing a separate insurance policy to include specialist chickenpox cover, just in case.
How much does cover typically cost?
We did a dummy travel insurance policy from a Google search that covers 2 adults and 1 child for cancellations including chicken pox related illness up to £5000, baggage cover up to £2,500 and medical cover up to £15,000,000 for a week away in June for under £200.
What should I do if I’m stuck abroad with chickenpox?
If you do find that your child has contracted or starts showing symptoms of chickenpox whilst abroad, you may have to stay in that country until they have fully recovered. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t panic and consider the following 3 steps:
Find a local doctor to diagnose and give advice
In order to be able to fly home, getting a letter from a doctor in the country you are staying in that confirms your child is fit to fly is a good idea. This is usually fairly uncomplicated to arrange, just make a note of the nearest local doctor’s surgery before you travel and contact them as soon as you can.
For the time being your EHIC will really come in handy here, as it will enable you to the make the most of free medical care in other EU countries, without any fuss. If you forget your card then you will still be entitled to this as long as you can show a valid British passport, but there may be a lot of additional paperwork to fill out – the last thing you need in an already stressful situation!
Also keep in mind that if you’re staying at a resort, the resort itself may have its own policies as to what facilities a child with chickenpox can use. A doctor’s note that states your child is not contagious may be required if you feel it is suitable for your child to continue to use hotel facilities like the pool or Kids’ Club.
Speak to your insurance provider as soon as you can
If you find yourself in this situation, remember to contact your travel insurer as soon as possible, so they can liaise with your usual GP and get you safely home as soon as they can.
Many travel policies offer a ‘family benefit’ for those stuck abroad as a result of a medical crisis, which covers the cost of things such as flying relatives out to help to care for your family until you can return, rescheduling flights, extending your stay in your hotel etc.
Double check what your policy provides before you travel. Keep in mind that some things such as car hire or food for the period you are stuck abroad may not be covered by your policy.
Double check what has been arranged
If your insurance company will take care of extending your hotel/rearranging your flight, make it clear to them what you need – insurance companies will often opt for the cheapest options without considering your needs, which may not be suitable for you or your child. Try to request an extension of the same accommodation you are already in, and ask for parents and children to be seated together on the flight home. If you are unable to secure these options, be prepared to contribute some extra funds yourself if necessary.
Also keep in mind that the insurance company may only be prepared to cover the cost of one adult to stay with the infected child until they have recovered. This may mean if you’re on a family holiday, you may have to be prepared to split up.
In some cases you may need to contact your airline yourself to arrange new transport home. Customer service from your chosen airline will be able to advise and assist with this – some airlines offer free rescheduling of flights, whereas others may require you to pay for new flights and claim this back through your insurance later, so again it is advisable to check before you go.
What not to do if your child has chicken pox…
Try and hide your child’s spots in the hope the airline won’t notice them
The reason airlines refuse boarding to passengers with chickenpox is that passengers who may be particularly vulnerable to the disease could become seriously unwell and even be at risk of losing their life if they contract the disease. Do not try and hide your child’s condition, as this could seriously harm or impact another passenger.
Just turn up at the airport and hope for the best
Chickenpox is something that most airlines do not take lightly – don’t simply chance it, check with your GP, airline and destination customs border before your travel to avoid disappointment
Think that arguing with officers at customs or at the departure gate will help your case
Chances are that even if you are permitted to board or enter the country, you may then be refused at a later stage or may not be able to get home. Be sensible, understand that officers are obligated to follow safety measures put in place to protect other passengers, and prepare properly before your travel.
Travel without checking the customs policy of your destination
Don’t fall at the last hurdle and end up being refused entry at the border once you’ve disembarked your flight. Always check this in advance.
Delay booking your travel insurance or choose a cheaper policy that doesn’t offer adequate protection because you think it won’t ‘happen to me’
Chickenpox does not discriminate – any child who hasn’t had it yet is vulnerable and may contract it just before your holiday. Take the time to research and select a policy that offers all the protection your family might need, and ensure it is in place as soon as possible after booking your flights. This could save you heaps in the long run!