How to Fly After Surgery

Updated March 23, 2017

Medical problems are never convenient. People plan their busy lives never realising that a medical condition might arise causing them to undergo surgery. Although you should always attempt to stay put and rest after any surgery, there may be situations which force you to travel--particularly if you underwent emergency surgery while away from home. Flying after surgery requires tremendous care, forethought and collaboration with your physician.

Consult your surgeon and any other doctor who has been treating you. Every case is unique and you need a customised plan to assure the proper precautions are being taken for your specific case.

Arrange for an air-ambulance if your post-surgical status has you less mobile than is required to board and exit a plane. Also consider it if your immune system is seriously compromised as aeroplanes cabins circulate air and expose you to other passengers' germs. Air ambulances can be extremely expensive -- sometimes in excess of £26,000 -- and your condition and situation will have to be very serious before your health insurance will cover it. In some cases, travel insurance will cover the costs of returning you home if your medical emergency occurred during the course of a trip.

Inform your airline if you will need a wheelchair or any other physical assistance. Get a doctor's note informing the airline that you are medically stable enough to fly and are not an emergency risk in flight. You will need this because most airlines will ask for information to determine if you are fit for flight. If you have very recently undergone open-heart surgery, eye surgery or an inner-ear procedure airlines will not likely accept you.

Prepare a kit with enough medical supplies for at least 24 hours. Include items you may need during your journey such as dressings, compresses, ointments, orthotics, special cushions including "doughnuts," as well as medications and anything you would use at home. Flight delays, cancellations and missed connections can unexpectedly extend journeys and you need to be ready just in case. Booking non-stop flights and first-class seats whenever possible will help to minimise potential problems.

Dress and pack your wounds before flying if fresh dressings are required. Have the dressings changed as close to your time of departure as possible, thereby maximising the time required before it is necessary to change the dressings again.

Wear a surgical mask if your surgery left your immune system compromised or if it involved respiratory or cardiac issues. The spread of infectious diseases is a serious concern on crowded aircraft and in airports.

Have someone accompany you if you are in need physical assistance or if you are experiencing residual issues with balance, nausea, or fainting. Falls can complicate existing conditions and of course create new injuries.

Walk up and down the aisle of the plane if possible. Deep Vein Thrombosis is a condition caused by blood clots that develop when sitting for prolong periods of time. Airplane passengers are always at risk for DVT on long flights. In post-surgical patients this is a particular concern. Talk to your doctor about medication to prevent DVT if you will not be mobile during a long flight.

Arrange for someone to meet you at your destination airport. If walking or lifting is difficult for you, ask an airline representative if they can arrange for someone to help you collect your bags and make your way to the person picking you up.


Never attempt to travel post-surgery without the advice and express consent of your physician.

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About the Author

Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.