I woke up with an earache in my left ear. I would be flying from SFO to JFK later that afternoon as the beginning of my trip to Panama over Memorial Day weekend. I would fly on 6 flights. I was very concerned about flying with pain in my ear.
I was able to find an appointment around noon with an Ear, Nose, Throat doctor (ENT). Later I'd find out why she had so many open appointment slots even on the same day. (Spoiler alert: she's not very good). After my visit (for which she'd bill my insurance $720), she said I have fluids in my ear and prescribed steroid pills + nasal sprays. When I asked if I can fly, she said there was risk of a rupture and damage but that I should be ok.
Being the risk taker I am, I went on with my trip. I did consider canceling the trip, all the hotel bookings were cancellable except for 1 night at an Airbnb near JFK and with a doctor's note I thought I might have some chance of a free cancel on the flights (but going by my experience trying to get my dad's flight cancelled for free on United and United flat out refusing to do so, saying unless it's a life and death issue, a doctor's note doesn't matter. So apparently potentially losing your hearing is not a reason where you can cancel your flight).
So anyway, I went ahead and flew, I can talk about the trip itself later but the Centurion Lounge at SFO was packed as I had heard it would be. But we did manage to find 2 seats (I was traveling with my mom.) The food was pretty good.
At this time, my ear felt very full and in slight pain. When I took off it was fine and during the flight, no issues. But as the doc said, it was painful upon descent and I was scared of something popping and me losing my hearing permanently. By this time, I couldn't hear much out of my left ear and you'd think you just lose 50% of your hearing ability but it felt like much worse, perhaps it's an exponential loss but frequently I could not make out what people were saying to me.
The next morning, I dreaded my next 2 flights, JFK-MIA and MIA-PTY. Both flights were a similar experience but landed in Panama without anything bursting but still in pain and half (or 3/4) deaf.
Then over the next 3 days in Panama, all the while taking the steroids and using the sprays, absolutely zero improvement. I had suspected all along that this was an infection and that I should have been given antibiotics and not steroids but I didn't want to visit a doctor in Panama while on vacation so I waited until I would be in NYC to schedule another ENT visit. The flight to MIA then the flight to LGA were perhaps a bit better and by this time fluids started coming out of my ear.
So the ENT in NYC confirmed it was indeed an infection and treated me accordingly and prescribed antibiotics and eardrops (which was $200 even with insurance). At that moment, I knew my first ENT back home would blame me flying for it turning into an infection, rather than admit a misdiagnosis. I suppose it's possible that flying in a plane would turn fluids in the ear into infection where there wasn't an infection before but I somehow doubt that. Even though I'm not a doctor.
And I managed to make my final flight to SFO feeling a bit better still and when I went back to the first ENT, she did as I had predicted and blamed me flying for the infection.
So anyway, it's been exactly 2 weeks since that morning and my hearing is back to about 75% in my left ear, the draining has stopped and I think I'm well on my way to a complete recovery.
Which is good since tomorrow morning I fly out again. On the same SFO-JFK transcon on the AA321t, except this time in first class, rather than business class. This will be my first time in the transcon first, so I'll see how it compares.