Whether you’re airsick or ate something you shouldn’t have, being sick on a plane is the worst. Here’s how to get through the ordeal.
Ask for a sick bag
Airlines don’t always put a sick bag in every seat anymore, so don’t count on there being one available at a moment’s notice. When you start to feel nauseated, gather your thoughts and start to make a plan. Press the call button; the flight attendant would rather find you a couple of sick bags and tissues now than have to clean up after you later. As a general rule, it’s better to let the crew know what’s up than to try to hide the fact that you’re feeling sick.
Turn on the vent
A cool breeze on your face can help, so turn on the air vent above your seat, and consider taking off your jacket or sweater. (There’s a second reason for that: if you think you might actually throw up, this reduces the number of items you have to worry about splashing.)
Think about what else might make you comfortable: a sip of ginger ale, perhaps; closing your eyes and listening to a podcast rather than trying to read. (if you’re airsick, reading tends to make it worse.) Avoid alcohol, and don’t eat unless some pretzels or crackers feel like they could settle your stomach.
Cut the line to the bathroom
Yes, it’s rude to run to the bathroom in front of people who are waiting. But it’s worse for everybody if you wait in line and don’t make it. And yes, we could be talking about either vomit or diarrhea here.
If you’ll be in the bathroom for a while, make sure to let somebody know so they can check on you. If you’re not traveling with friends or family, give a flight attendant a heads up. Also, be aware they can’t land when you’re in there, so you will have to come out eventually.
Ask for medical help if you need it
Flight attendants really will ask if there’s a doctor (or other qualified medical professional) on the plane in case of a medical emergency.
Every plane carries a first aid kit with basic supplies, and a medical kit that’s available to medical professionals. That kit contains prescription drugs and specialized medical equipment. If you’re very sick, or if you think could be in especially bad shape by the time the plane lands, it’s worth asking for help. For example, a doctor may be able to give you anti-nausea or anti-diarrheal medication, or in extreme cases, even administer IV fluids to keep you from getting dehydrated.
If things do get serious—like you have a life-threatening illness, not just airsickness or food poisoning—in rare cases the flight might be diverted so you can get to a hospital sooner. And whether there is a doctor on the flight or not, the crew is often able to get medical guidance from professionals on the ground, to help figure out how sick you are and what they can do for you while you’re in the air.
Depending on local laws and regulations, airline crews in some countries may be able to hand you over-the-counter medications. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but don’t be surprised if they say they can’t help you. Next time, pack your own dramamine.