Travelers with medical conditions, special equipment needs or obvious health impairments, beware. Airlines do have the right to refuse to transport persons demonstrating conditions that may worsen or have grave consequences during the flight -- and they do not hesitate to act on that right. Savvy passengers concerned about an uncomfortable incident at the gate should know what clearances to obtain and what to expect at the airport.
If a passenger with an uncontrolled, severe or contagious disease travels by air and requires immediate medical attention during the flight, the aircraft may have to make an unplanned landing. Unplanned landings cause significant scheduling problems and incurred expenses for the airline, the ill passenger and all the other passengers on the flight.
Airlines do not publish what it costs to divert an aircraft for a medical emergency, but the American Society of Anesthesiologists reports that it's estimated to be between $15,000 and $893,000. For this reason, airlines are extremely reticent to allow people on-board whose health could result in such an incident.
The refusal process occurs before the plane departs. Members of the cabin crew are required to notify the captain if they see any indication that a boarding passenger may be seriously or communicably ill. The decision to refuse travel to the sick passenger rests with the captain. According to the World Health Organization, this decision is based on whether the passenger "is fit to travel, needs medical attention or presents a danger to other passengers and crew or to the safety of the aircraft." If any of those conditions are met, the traveler is refused passage.
No laws require airlines to refund the ejected passenger, and policies as to refund and travel credit diverge widely.
Air travelers with preexisting health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung conditions, diabetes, recent surgery or any other medication-requisite health issue must consider the necessary precautions for safe travel. Hand-carry any medication that must be taken during the journey -- do not put it in checked baggage, as it will be unavailable until journey's end.
Also carry a copy of each prescription. Air travelers with a medical condition that causes the patient to appear obviously ill, necessitates oxygen or requires injections of drugs must apply for a medical card from the airline's reservation department. The card is proof of medical clearance, greatly lessening the possibility of being turned away at the airport.
Although the World Health Organization gives general guidelines regarding conditions that may necessitate advance medical clearance, policies vary between airlines. Check your airline's specific requirements before booking the flight. If you happen to become ill after the flight is booked, certainly do so before arrival at the airport.