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Travelling abroad

A brain tumour diagnosis can make travelling abroad more complicated. We look at the some of the support that's available.

Receiving a brain tumour diagnosis may affect your ability to travel abroad. This might be due to limitations related to treatments and medications, the effects of the tumour itself or the cost of travel insurance.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 January 2020, the rules for passports, driving, pet travel and more may also change. If the UK agrees a deal to leave the EU, the rules would be the same until the end of the agreed withdrawal period. 

Can I fly?

It’s strongly advised that you seek your doctor’s advice on whether they believe you’re fit to fly before booking any travel arrangements.

Different airlines may also have different rules, so it’s advisable to talk to both your consultant and your airline before booking – many airlines have a medical department that you can talk to.

After surgery

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is responsible for air travel safety, states that neurosurgery may leave gas (air) trapped within the skull, which may expand at altitude. As such, the CAA recommends to avoid air travel for approximately 7 days following this type of procedure.

If you need to travel before then, you’ll need to be assessed by a doctor with aviation medicine experience.

Cancer Research UK also advises that it can take up to 10 days for the air to dissolve away, while the NHS Choices website suggests you should allow 6 weeks after a craniotomy and 4 weeks after a brain biopsy. In all cases, you should be fully recovered from your treatment.

If your doctor is unsure, they can contact the Aviation Health Unit of the CAA for specific advice, if the query is not covered in the CAA website guidance.

Can I take my medications with me?

On the aircraft

Some people with a brain tumour might have to carry additional medical supplies with them. If you don’t need them during the flight, you can put them in your hold luggage.

Making sure you have enough medication for the flight and a few days extra in your hand luggage means you won't run out in the unlikely event that your hold luggage doesn’t arrive with you.

If your medications are in liquid form and the amount you need doesn’t fit into the standard rules about carrying liquids in hand luggage, you may still be allowed to carry them in your hand luggage. 

Contact your airline before your trip to let them know you’ll be carrying extra liquids and check if they have any particular requirements. You should also check any additional requirements at the airports you’re flying from and to - this information is usually found on an airport's website.

The Civil Aviation Authority guidance for carrying any medications includes obtaining, and carrying with you, a medical certificate from your GP or hospital:

  • if you’re travelling with large quantities of medication or hypodermic needles
  • when carrying more than 100ml of medicine in liquid or gel form through security.

You may need to show this certificate. Be aware that for liquids, you may also be asked to taste the medicine.

If your medicine contains a controlled drug you'll also need to prove it's prescribed to you. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure whether your medication contains a controlled substance. You can also check the contents on the packaging and search for them on the controlled drugs list.

To another country

Many countries have different regulations about what medications they will allow into their country, so it’s advisable to check with the embassy or high commission of the country you’re travelling to. This is also important if you’re taking any alternative medicines.

Additionally, airlines travelling to certain countries may be aware of these restrictions and not allow some medications on the plane. It never hurts to check with the airline you’re flying with.

You should be aware that for some countries, the presence of some medications in your bloodstream on arrival is sufficient to count as “possession”.

If you’re being treated with medications on a country’s “banned” list, you should speak to your doctor about a change of medication, or change where you’re going.

If you do take such medication with you, it’s best to make sure it’s in its original packaging and has a pharmacy label attached. This shows it’s genuine medication. It will also have a list of the medication’s ingredients and a batch number that can be checked and traced to the manufacturer.

A letter from your doctor stating that you need this medication can help and you should only take as much as you need while you’re away.

Can I get help when travelling?

Yes, you can get help when travelling at many airports and with many airlines. This help is called special assistance.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a lot of useful information about special assistance, including details of the services provided by UK airports and all the main airlines that fly from the UK.

What is special assistance?

Special assistance is additional support that’s available when you arrive at an airport and can include:

  • moving through the departure airport
  • boarding the aircraft
  • during the flight
  • getting off the aircraft
  • transferring between flights
  • moving through the destination airport.

Can I get special assistance?

While many people are aware that special assistance is available to those with a mobility issue, for example being in a wheelchair, it's also available to those who have:

  • other physical disabilities, e.g. blindness or deafness
  • difficulty with communication or social interaction
  • hidden disabilities, such as fatigue or not being able to walk long distances.

How much does it cost?

Within the EU (European Union)

Special assistance is a legal right and is provided by the airports and airlines for free, when:

  • you fly on any airline from an EU airport
  • you fly on an EU registered airline to an EU airport.

The Government have said that passenger rights will not be affected by Brexit and people will still be entitled to the same assistance.

Outside the EU

Similar assistance is available in other countries, including the United States. However, there are many parts of the world where such assistance may require a fee or not be available at all. You should check with the airline you're flying with for more information.

How do I request special assistance?

You can request special assistance from your travel agent or airline when making your booking. Many airlines allow you to do this online.

If you’ve already booked your flight, contact the airline directly to arrange assistance. This can sometimes be done online. It’s best to let the airline know at least 48 hours before you fly, though 72 hours is better.

They’ll take all the necessary information from you regarding the assistance you need and inform the relevant organisations. Airports are responsible for providing assistance within the airport and your airline is responsible when you’re on the plane.

You can also request special assistance when you arrive at the airport, either by finding the special assistance help points or asking at the airline check-in area. They’ll try to help you as best they can, but they’ll give priority to those who have pre-booked.

Hidden disabilities or difficulties

Often, disabilities or difficulties caused by brain tumours are hidden. If you do not want to share details about them, you can pick up a special lanyard or wristband from the special assistance help points on your arrival at the airport - these can also be requested at least four working days before you travel.

If you’re wearing one of these lanyards or wristbands, airport and airline staff will recognise that you might need some extra help or time. Contact your airline or airport for more information.

Eurostar

If you’re travelling on the Eurostar with a disability or reduced mobility, free special assistance is there to help you get to and from the train.

If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:

Information and Support line

0808 800 0004 (free from landlines and mobiles)

support@thebraintumourcharity.org

Phone lines open Mon-Fri, 09:00-17:00

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Get support

If you need someone to talk to or advice on where to get help, our Support and Information team is available by phone, email or live-chat.