Request help »
+++ Ukraine - Russia Crisis : Find out more about medical repatriations from Ukraine. +++

Flying after knee replacement surgery: is it possible?

Request help »

Flying after knee replacement surgery: is it possible?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you are considering or have had a knee arthroplasty, one question that may be running through your mind is, "How long after my knee replacement surgery can I fly?" The truth is that recovering from a total joint replacement surgery requires patience, and the time needed for full recovery varies from one person to another. Remember that your level of comfort can also influence when you are ready to embark on a long journey to or from the UK.

The key points to remember about flying long distances after knee replacement surgery:

  • It is typically recommended that you wait 6 weeks after any major lower limb surgery before flying. Patients may be able to fly on short-haul or domestic flights sooner, usually within 3 to 4 weeks, but they should always consult their surgeon to ensure there is no increased risk of blood clots.
  • Patients who have had knee arthroplasty and are unable to sit up should consider taking a commercial airline stretcher flight. This service is designed specifically for transporting patients with limited mobility over long distances.
  • However, if a patient has certain health problems that increase their risk of developing blood clots and other health complications in addition to their recent knee replacement surgery, only a specially outfitted air ambulance should be considered for long-distance travel.

How soon after knee replacement surgery can you fly commercially?

Some people may be able to tolerate the rigours of commercial flights as soon as they are able to sit comfortably, which could be just a few weeks after surgery. However, while 3 to 4 weeks is the absolute minimum before flying safely following knee replacement surgery, most doctors recommend waiting at least 6 weeks.


Flying after knee arthroplasty (total knee replacement surgery)

It is normally advised that you wait 6 weeks after having any major lower limb surgery before flying. Patients may be able to fly on short-haul or domestic flights sooner, typically after 3 to 4 weeks, but they should always consult their doctor to ensure there is no increased risk of blood clots.

Flying after arthroscopic knee surgery

While keyhole surgery (also known as arthroscopic surgery) is often regarded as a minor procedure (because it does not involve cutting through the skin or soft tissues), it is widely accepted that patients recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery should wait at least 2 weeks before flying. Some patients may experience difficulty walking for the first week following their arthroscopy and may wish to postpone flying until their mobility improves.

Are there any special rules for flying commercially after having a knee replacement surgery?

Different airlines will have different policies for flying after surgery. Before flying, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recommends waiting 1 to 2 days after keyhole surgery and 2 to 6 weeks after total knee replacement surgery, which involves an artificial knee joint with metal alloy caps.

If you are unable to sit normally (for example, because you cannot bend your knee or because you are wearing a bulky sling), you may need to purchase an additional (or upgraded) seat. In any case, no airline will allow you to sit in an emergency seat.

If your orthopaedic surgery includes implants, screws, plates, wires, and so on, be prepared for extra security measures at airport security checkpoints. You may set off metal detectors and be subjected to additional scanning and pat-down inspections depending on the type and quantity of metal used. Before going through the scanners, always notify the security staff that there may be an issue.

Before booking a flight following knee replacement surgery, always consult your doctor, your health or travel insurance provider, and the airline you will be flying with.

What are the risks associated with flying commercially after a knee replacement surgery?

Flying after minor surgeries, which rarely result in complications, may pose very little risk to the passenger's health as long as adequate recovery time is allowed. However, major orthopaedic surgery will have an impact on your physical and psychological ability to fly comfortably. Your capacity to transit the airport, tolerate turbulence, and sit comfortably in a chair for the duration of the flight will be compromised.

Flying after knee replacement surgery increases the risk of blood clotting (deep vein thrombosis) and pulmonary embolism in several ways. This risk is primarily linked to prolonged immobility. The fact that almost all patients recovering from knee arthroplasty were relatively sedentary even before being crammed into a tight seat with limited movement adds to the risk factors.

blood clots

Dehydration promotes blood clotting, which can lead to DVT. This risk is heightened on commercial flights, where humidity levels are lower than usual. Furthermore, passengers who limit their drinking during their flight – perhaps to avoid having to use the restroom – or who consume natural diuretics (liquids that cause you to urinate), such as caffeinated drinks or alcoholic beverages, are more likely to develop such health complications following knee surgery.

Finally, those who fly too soon after knee (or even hip) surgery may experience pain and swelling in the lower limbs that can last up to three months. Swelling combined with immobility is the perfect recipe for deep vein thrombosis.

How to fly safely after a knee replacement surgery?

Traveling soon after knee replacement surgery is usually safe if the following precautions are taken:

  • Avoid diuretics and drink plenty of water to ensure proper hydration and circulation.
  • Make sure you have enough pain relief to get through a long-distance commercial flight.
  • Discuss your travel plans with your surgeon. He may prescribe a blood thinner to reduce your chances of developing blood clots.
  • Stick to short-haul flights. If you need to travel further, look for itineraries with more layovers so you can get off the plane and stretch your legs.
  • Request additional legroom. If you have the means, we recommend flying business class, "premium economy," or getting an exit row seat that allows you to move around rather than being cramped in a standard economy seat.
  • If you must travel in a cramped seat, make an extra effort to move around. A seat in the aisle row would be preferable so you could stretch your legs. Consider doing regular calf exercises and walking around the cabin.

What is a commercial airline stretcher flight for knee replacement surgery patients?

Patients who have had a knee arthroplasty are often quite stable but unable to sit up. They may believe that travelling on a commercial flight is impossible in this case, given the small seats and lack of legroom.

Thanks to the commercial airline stretcher services provided by Medical Repatriation UK, this is not an issue. But what exactly is a commercial airline stretcher? It is a medical bed that is separated from the other passengers by a screen and is designed to transport patients with limited mobility over long distances on a scheduled flight. The patient is transported on a stretcher set up in the passenger cabin. They will be able to lie down comfortably for the duration of the flight. Relatives and our medical escorts will be present to ensure their well-being and offer moral support.

The benefits of a commercial stretcher flight include:

  • It is optimised for their comfort and safety.
  • A commercial airline stretcher on a commercial flight is less expensive than chartering a private air ambulance, especially if your condition is stable enough.
  • We provide the necessary medical equipment to ensure the patient's safety while travelling.
  • We have a team of healthcare specialists on hand to care for the patient and provide the necessary assistance in the event of a complication during the flight.

Why opt for an air ambulance?

There is a critical period following surgery when you are at increased risk of post-surgical complications. You should only fly if absolutely necessary and with your doctor's permission. If you must travel, however, you should use an air ambulance.

air ambulance

A medical flight, as previously stated, can be a commercial airliner outfitted with specialised medical equipment. However, if, in addition to your recent knee replacement surgery, you have certain health problems that increase your risk of developing blood clots and other health complications, this option is not recommended. Many factors can increase the likelihood of DVT. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop DVT. Heart failure, pregnancy, obesity, smoking and drinking, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease are all risk factors for DVT.

If you don't want to risk anything during your long-distance flight, an ambulance jet can quickly ensure the advantages of medical treatment at home. The following are the benefits of flying with an ambulance jet:

  • Cabin pressure can be adjusted to avoid problems.
  • Pick-ups can also be made from smaller, regional airports.
  • Special drugs and intensive medical treatment are available.
  • Individual treatment and care in a high-tech medical jet by outstanding medical personnel.

Furthermore, we provide an all-inclusive bed-to-bed service, which ensures your safety from the moment you leave the hospital until you arrive at the hospital of your choice.

 Do you have any additional questions?

If you couldn't find what you were looking for, please visit our FAQ page.

Contact us today!

Do you need a flight ambulance charter at short notice? Contact the experts at Medical Repatriation UK to learn more about our medical flight services for postoperative patients in need of medical care by: