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Air travel and respiratory disease

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 23 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1186

Proper assessment and preparation reduce the risk, but it pays to shop around

  1. Michael D L Morgan (, consultant respiratory physician.
  1. Department of Respiratory Medicine and Thoracic Surgery, University Hospitals of Leicester, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester LE3 9QP

    In spite of recent events, air passenger travel is increasing. Globally, over one billion people now fly each year, and the United Kingdom alone had over 180 million air traffic movements in 2001.1 The increasing availability of lower cost travel also makes such journeys accessible to older or less financially advantaged travellers. It has become common for people with lung disease to wish to travel and in turn seek advice from their medical practitioners about the provision of oxygen and other issues. Surprisingly, reports of serious incidents concerning travellers with lung disease are relatively rare, but a systematic investigation of this area has not yet been conducted. Since respiratory problems are estimated to make up about 11% of in-flight emergencies it is reasonable to assume that the burden of risk surrounding the flight itself and later disruption of the journey is significant.2

    Advice about the particular medical hazards of travel for patients with respiratory disease and their necessary assessment has not been easy to obtain. Paradoxically, patients themselves have had greater access to information …

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