maskA disturbing new poll says 51 percent of air travelers say they’d rather fly while infected with the flu than pay a $150 airline change fee.

The survey, conducted by TripAdvisor.com, asked travelers if they would fly while they’re sick in order to avoid paying a booking change fee. A total of 2,327 users responded.

Airlines have resisted calls to loosen their highly profitable change-fee requirements in the face of the H1N1 epidemic. They apparently prefer a Band-Aid solution to the problem.

Change fees are a critical part of the airline industry’s ancillary revenue picture. But it’s not the only part. Remember, airlines also charge a fare differential when a ticket is changed, which can bring in even more revenue.

TripAdvisor’s general manager of new initiatives at TripAdvisor, Bryan Saltzburg, seemed genuinely horrified by the poll results.

While the thought of paying a $50 to $150 ticket change fee may cause heartburn for many travelers, we strongly recommend against flying while you’re sick with the flu, both as a courtesy to yourself and your fellow travelers. If you’re worried about getting sick this season, you may want to take a look at trip insurance for flights being booked during peak flu months. Be sure to read the fine print in the policy to make sure it covers the flu, though, as some only offer reimbursements for major illnesses.

That’s good advice, to a point. I don’t know a lot of people who take out trip insurance on a roundtrip flight to visit Grandma for Thanksgiving. Plus, insurance on airline tickets tends to be ridiculously overpriced and virtually impossible to make a successful claim on.

There’s only one fix to this: Airlines must drop their onerous change fee requirements during flu season. Or we will all suffer the consequences.

(Photo: kitty meets goat/Flickr Creative Commons)