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Sick on holiday: medically accompanied return flight

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Sick on holiday: medically accompanied return flight

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Many travellers look forward to their holiday as the most enjoyable time of the year. They can finally do whatever they like, relax, get to experience new culture, or pursue their favourite leisure activities. But all the holiday fun can end abruptly with the onset of a serious illness. Suddenly, they must seek medical treatment far away from home and arranging their own flight back is out of the question.

Ambulance at the airport

Because most medical situations in popular holiday countries do not meet the standards they are used to at home, many sick tourists would rather return home as quickly as possible. The solution: a medically accompanied return flight.

What does a medically accompanied flight involve?

Depending on your health condition, and how urgently you want to get home, there are various options for medically accompanied flights. With serious illnesses and urgent cases, everything adds up to using an ambulance aircraft. If intensive medical care is not needed and a few days' lead time is not a problem, a medically accompanied scheduled flight may also be undertaken.

Returning home in an ambulance aircraft

In an ambulance aircraft, you will experience conditions similar to those found in modern intensive care units. The medical equipment is state-of-the-art, and an experienced flight doctor will be responsible for your wellbeing during the flight.

Because ambulance aircraft are stationed all over the world and can also land easily at smaller regional airports, they are available at short notice at any time, regardless of where you are. Therefore, the medically accompanied flight home can often take place on the same day or the following day.

Flying home in a scheduled airliner (lying down)

If you must be transported lying down even when the  illness is not so serious, we can make your return flight on board a scheduled airliner on certain routes. You will be accompanied by a doctor or paramedic who carries emergency equipment and can intervene immediately if necessary. The patient spends the flight on a patient stretcher bed that is installed in the aircraft especially for them. A privacy screen separates the patient from the curious glances of fellow travellers.

lead time of 1 to 2 days must be factored in for a medical repatriation lying down in a scheduled aircraft. The airline uses this time to check your medical situation and decides whether to agree to your transport. In most cases, the installation of the patient stretcher bed only takes a few hours. Although the installation time is relatively short, it does mean that this kind of patient transport is usually only possible on long-haul flights.

On short-haul flights, scheduled planes must set off on the return flight as quickly as possible, so there is no time to install a patient stretcher bed.

Furthermore, non-direct flights are rarely used. The coordination of the individual flights can be very complex and missing a connecting flight would lead to unacceptable complications for the patient. However, one could consider combining a long-haul flight in a scheduled aircraft with a shorter feeder flight in an ambulance aircraft.

Flying home in a scheduled airliner (seated)

If you can sit upright for a reasonable period of time (at least during take-off and landing) a seated flight in a scheduled airliner is also possible. Just as when transported in a lying down position, you will travel with a doctor or paramedic, who can provide you with immediate medical support if necessary. As a rule, the sick passenger and the medical flight attendant receive adjacent seats in Business Class. Here, you can recline your seat and travel smoothly and comfortably. Business Class also gives medical flight attendants the space to act if they need to intervene.

The conditions described for Business Class can be found particularly on long-haul flights. For shorter distances, small planes that do not have a separate Business Class are used. Instead, an area of the Economy Class cabin is separated off, in which only every second seat is allocated. Whether these conditions are sufficient to offer the patient a medically safe, problem-free return flight, needs to be assessed in each individual case.

In the case of a seated patient travelling accompanied by medical flight attendants, the airline must similarly approve the patient transport. The airline reviews the patient's medical documentation, requiring a lead time of 1 to 2 days. Direct routes are preferred for seated patient transports. In individual cases we can check whether connecting flights are also an option.

Taken ill abroad: will the insurance company pay for the flight home?

If you fall ill during your holiday and you require a medically accompanied flight home, you might be confronted with costs that was not included in your holiday budget. Your statutory health insurance will not pay for this, only a travel insurance policy that includes health cover may take over these costs. However, each individual case must be carefully examined. Most insurance policies only cover the cost of a flight home if it is medically necessary. This is the case if adequate treatment is not available in the holiday country.

Since most treatments are now available in principle in many countries around the world (in spite of the often-lower standards) only a small number of patient repatriations are classified as medically necessary. Medically reasonable cases, in which treatment in the home country is likely to deliver better results, are much more common. This scenario comes up comparatively frequently, but very few travel insurance policies cover the costs of a flight home in medically reasonable cases.

Flight home at your own expense

If you have no valid insurance cover and the insurance company refuses to cover the costs, or the decision-making process is taking too long, you can book a return flight at your own expense. Private service providers such as Medical Repatriation UK would be happy to help you and could take over the organisation of the entire flight. Due to the many variable factors, the costs must be calculated individually for each patient. We consider:

  • means of transport required
  • the distance to be covered
  • the patient's state of health
  • the urgency of the request
  • the number of accompanying persons

We would be happy to calculate a non-binding price estimate for you in a telephone consultation.

We are here for you

A serious illness on holiday usually also means that you cannot organise your flight home yourself and your health condition requires that you avoid any extra strain. Our experienced team is at your service 24 hours a day, to answer your questions and set your mind at rest.

Our international colleagues can communicate with the hospital staff in many countries in their mother tongue, and thus overcome language barriers. Our excellent contacts and many years of experience enable us to plan your flight home quickly and coordinate all the elements precisely. Thanks to our bed-to-bed service, the journey to the airport and the onward journey from the destination airport to the hospital are also no problem. We are happy to organise the ground transports and coordinate all your pickup and handover times.

Any further questions?

If you have any further questions about the organisation and scheduling of a medical repatriation, please see our FAQ. If you can't find the answer to your question there, please contact us directly.

Contact us now for your medical repatriation

Our 24-hour service is awaiting your call at any time. We will advise you free of charge and can provide you with a non-binding quotation upon request. Please contact us: