Flying soon after surgery


Nurse Director
Jun 8, 2007
The North
United Kingdom United Kingdom
This has been a frequently asked question on BS so I thought I'd make an article about it.
"Soon" is taken as meaning within the first 12 weeks for either knee or hip surgery.

Wheelchair assistance is worth making use of and is generally excellent in airports.
Make sure that you inform the carrier well in advance, specifying the type of assistance you require.
Not only are you well looked after with airport assistance, you generally get fast-tracked through the security procedures / passport control too.

As it's a free service, it is definitely worth asking for.

There are different types are as follows:
1. Passenger can walk, but not long distances, and is able to climb steps (it's necessary to specify this, in case the plane is parked away from the terminal).
2. Passenger can walk, but not long distances, and is UNable to climb steps. In this case, you would be physically helped up steps.
3. Passenger is unable to walk more than a step or two, and requires full assistance getting on/off the plane, and in/out of the seat onboard.

Fly out of a smaller airport if you can. The smaller airports allow parking closer to the terminal and have shorter walks to ticketing and gates.

Take note of any layovers when booking flights.

Do remember that long haul flights are known to be problematic because of the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) so extra precautions should be taken then which would included wearing compression tights or knee highs and making sure you do anti-clot exercises like foot rotations, ankle pumps and quad squeezes to boost the blood flow.

Otherwise, these are the bullet points to take into consideration:

1. when booking the flight, be sure to reserve a seat with extra leg room. This would be the bulkhead seats at the front of the plane. Those next to an emergecy exit are a bit more roomy, but most airlines require that you are fit enough to assist passengers in the event of an emergency. But ask the booking agent and explain why it is important that you have extra space and they should do their best to accommodate you

2. also book a wheelchair and an escort, even if you never use one or dislike the idea of doing so. The advantages of being a wheelchair user are that a) you get escorted around the airport and don't need to walk miles! b) your luggage is also taken care of for you c) you will be fast tracked through booking and customs and onto the aircraft. Wheelchair users are usually first on and last off so be prepared for a bit of a wait to disembark

3. plan to get up and walk about several times during the flight, maybe once every 15-20 mins. Doesn't need to be a route march, just 5 minutes not sitting down!

4. drink plenty of fluids, preferably non-alcoholic!

5. make sure you take pain meds for the flight though you will have to declare these and explain your need for them

6. request some means of keeping your leg elevated. If you tell the cabin crew they will do their best to provide you with pillows and rolled up blankets.

7. Arrange to have someone drop you at the terminal. You will wear yourself out before you start if you use park-and-ride shuttle buses with your luggage. Do the same when you return of course.

8. Arrive an extra 30-45 minutes early at the airport for check-in. It will take longer with an implant. You may trip the security scanner and be directed for a full body scan or a personal inspection (wanding and/or pat-down). You have the right to ask for a personal inspection if you are uncomfortable with the body scan. You may also ask to have it done in an area away from public view. But.....each of these requests will add time to the process, so be sure to allow for it. And make sure your belongings are secure when this is done - you don't want to leave a handbag or wallet on the screening counter or out of sight.

9. Don't bother taking an ID card that says you have an artificial joint. Screeners pay no attention to them, no matter what your surgeon might tell you!

10. Take along some ZipLock freezer bags so that you can ask for ice and make ice packs to use during the flight. Put one bag inside a second one just to be sure you don't get any leaks.

11. Purchase the best seat you can afford. Obviously a First Class or Business Class seat has more room and may be a lot more comfortable for you than regular seating.

This is from the Federal Aviation Administration

Pack Safe - Instant ice packs (using ammonium nitrate)

Instant/rapid ice packs that are activated by force—when used for medical/first aid purposes. These items are allowed in carry-on or checked baggage—when carried for medical purposes such as the treatment of sporting injuries.

These products contain ammonium nitrate (a hazardous material) and are activated by force such as squeezing them or striking them. They are often used for first aid during sporting events.

Quantity limits: Included in, not in addition to, the quantity limits for medicinal and toiletry articles: The total aggregate quantity per person cannot exceed 2 kg (70 ounces) or 2 L (68 fluid ounces). The capacity of each container must not exceed 0.5 kg (18 ounces) or 500 ml (17 fluid ounces).*

See the regulation: 49 CFR 175.10(a)(1)

*When in carry-on baggage any liquid/gel ice products are further limited to 100-ml (3.4 oz) containers at the TSA security checkpoint if not already frozen solid.

Tip: Normal ice packs (those that must be first put in a freezer) are not hazardous materials and have no quantity limits in checked baggage.
Have a happy and safe journey!
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