Traveling With a Sick Child

Last updated: January 4, 2017
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It haunts the dreams of every parent out there; just before traveling, Junior decides to sprout a 101 degree fever. You hope for the best at first, but soon it dawns on you: you’re either going to have to take very special precautions, or cancel your travel plans altogether.

Sometimes though, your child gets sick while traveling; the timing of which is very important in terms of determining whether to extend the vacation or try to get them back home. It’s a very stressful situation as a parent, so it’s important to be prepared for any situation that may arise.

IF you travel

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has guidelines for travelers of all ages to consider before they get on a plane, but extra thought should be given if your kid looks like they’re starting to feel less than well before a flight. There are a multitude of things to consider when traveling with a child, including: symptoms, length of vacation, destination, as well as preventative measures that have been taken, such as vaccinations. The CDC highlights this as extremely important, especially for international travel with infants, due to the presence of potential viral infections that don’t exist or are rare in the U.S.

There are a few illnesses which the CDC lists as most common in small children when it comes to international travel:

  • Diarrheal illnesses
  • Dermatologic conditions, including animal and arthropod bites, cutaneous larva migrans, and sunburn
  • Systemic febrile illnesses, especially malaria
  • Respiratory disorders

Judging by this list, there are a few things of which parents should be wary when actually at their destination: diet, mosquitoes and proximity to rusted cars with bad mufflers. If you’re one of the millions of families living in the suburbs, with quiet streets, home-cooked food and constant access to bug spray, you probably haven’t had to worry about any of these things. Of course you can always bring the usual suspects of fever reducer and vitamin C tablets if you are concerned about an illness or if your child always gets sick in a predictable fashion. As a little extra protection when traveling domestically or internationally, travel insurance in all forms is a good way to be prepared for the worst.

Purchasing travel insurance

If you’re concerned about the potential of your kid (or you) getting sick, like if you’re traveling during the holidays, then you can always spend a few extra bucks on travel insurance. The price for this can vary based on the cost of the trip as well as how long the trip will last, but it provides peace of mind just in case a last minute cancellation becomes necessary or a medical emergency happens while on your trip. Here are the four major airline’s policies on such accommodations, all of which are for single trip:

  • Southwest: coverage of $5,000 for domestic travel, $10,000 international. There is emergency evacuation coverage, which provides $10,000 for domestic travel and $20,000 for international. It provides reimbursements for deductibles and co-pays, and will provide coverage for up to one year based on the need for follow-up visits. The provide a cancellation waiver if it’s necessary for a pre-existing condition.
  • Delta – Reimbursement of up to $10,000 for a medical emergency, and up to $50,000 for emergency medical transportation. They also have coverage for pre-existing conditions if: you purchase insurance within 14 days of first trip payment, you purchase trip cancellation coverage, are a U.S. resident and the total cost of your trip is $10,000 or less.
  • United: The cost may vary depending on which state you live in. They provide the same coverage as Delta, however their site does not mention coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • American: Coverage is the same ($10,000/$50,000) as it is for United.

For families traveling internationally for an extended period of time, there is an option called MedJet Assist, which will fly you back home in the event of an illness or catastrophic injury from anywhere in the world for the cost of membership. It’s a specialty program that can be used in unique circumstances, but membership must be purchased before you travel.

If you need a refund

In the event that you need to postpone your vacation – or extend it another day – due to your kid getting sick, you have options. Each airline, while most are similar, have their own protocol when it comes to seeking a refund on an entire ticket or just for the change fee. For example, United does offer the ability to get a refund even on a non-refundable ticket; all you need is a physician’s note verifying the sickness. If you decide to change your flight, the same can be provided and the change fee is reduced to $50, according to another parent who has been through this (it should be noted that no mention of this could be found on United’s site). We all know about Southwest and their not charging a change fee, but they will charge a difference in airfare. Regardless, check your airline’s contract of carriage.

If you are worried your child will get sick while on vacation, be prepared by knowing which medical centers are closest to your hotel just in case you think they need to see a doctor. The best thing to do though is to keep an eye on them. As any parent could attest, a child could be fine one minute and then look miserable the next. If in the middle of a flight from Boston to San Francisco your child says their stomach hurts, grab extra bags and keep an eye out for clear paths to the bathroom. The person in your row sitting aisle seat would likely be glad to take the window in this situation.

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