Thank You

You will receive your first email soon.



Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons: Avoid Cancellation Fees with a Doctor’s Note

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I’m willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket, and until recently I had never been unable to fly due to medical reasons. The cost is simply too high. I’d rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But recently, it didn’t. I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that I would be unable to fly due to illness. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Unable to Fly Due to Medical Reasons? Get a Letter from a Doctor

Enter the doctor’s note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $100, but the airline (Virgin America, though some other airlines—but not all—have a similar policy) would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor’s note.

I had the fortune/misfortune of a trip to the emergency room and multiple consultations with two different doctors, so I had a paper trail to back up my claim that I was unable to fly due to illness. The airline asked for a doctor’s note, on the doctor’s letterhead, which included some kind of statement regarding my inability to fly for medical reasons plus my name and confirmation number.

Because of some tight timing (and the fact that I wasn’t up to making all those phone calls in one day), I first had to cancel the flight and incur the $100 fee, then ask the doctor to fax a note to the airline confirming I was unable to fly due to medical reasons, at which point the $100 was credited back to my account. In my case, the money now sits as credits to be used on a future flight, but since I plan on traveling with the airline in the next year, that’s just fine with me.

If you need to cancel a flight due to a medical reason and are hoping to avoid cancellation fees:

  • Read the fine print or contact your airline to assess whether or not a documented medical emergency is enough reason to waive a cancellation fee.
  • Be in touch with your doctor so that he or she can vouch for you.
  • Cancel more than 24 hours in advance.
  • Ask your doctor (or a nurse or someone at the front desk) politely, and make it as easy for them as possible to provide a doctor’s note.
  • Provide the airline with as much information as possible about your medical condition, and follow up to check on the process of your cancellation fee waiver claim.

Have you ever had to cancel a flight due to a medical reason? Were you able to avoid cancellation fees with a doctor’s note? Share your best tips with other readers below!

More from SmarterTravel:


Top Fares From