Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery

Flying after hip replacement surgery - guidance and advice for travellers.

When Is It Safe To Fly?

First off - you are an individual - so if you read about someone else flying a few days after their operation remember they are not you. Did they say what sort of surgery they had? What surgical approach was used? What their surgeon advised? What class they flew in? What precautions they took? Chances are no. And chances it wasn't a few days anyway!!

The only person who can truly advise you on when to fly is a member of your medical team. Don't listen to anyone else.

If your surgeon says don't fly - then don't!

Why am I emphasising this so strongly? Because flying after hip replacement surgery can be dangerous.

Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery - Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

The most serious threat to your health is the possibility of developing a DVT (blood clot). First, there is a risk of developing a DVT as a result of your operation (the rate is normally given at around 3%). Then added to this is the risk of developing a clot whilst flying. Although this is particularly associated with coach class (where there is less leg room) it can happen anywhere on the plane. So flying too soon after surgery increases the likelihood of an already established and well known risk. That is serious.

A DVT is potentially fatal and can develop days or event weeks after your flight. I have provided a dvt symptom checklist for you to download.

Preventing DVTs whilst flying 

This advice is good for anyone not just people flying after hip replacement surgery.  But if you've had surgery then use these ideas along with any advice given by your medical team - in particular you must continue to take any anti-coagulant medication they prescribe.

  • Stand up, stretch and walk up and down the aisle during the journey
  • Walk whilst sitting down. Start with your feet flat on the floor, then lift your heels alternatively
  • Wear compression stockings you can pick these up at most airports or large pharmacies
  • Drink plenty of water or other soft drinks this will help combat the dehydrating effect of cabin air. Dehydration can cause the blood to become more concentrated and therefore clot more easily

Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery - Which Class?

plane taking off

There is no doubt about it but standard class is pretty uncomfortable particularly if you are taller than average and if you're flying after hip replacement surgery its just uncomfortable whatever your height. There is the seat pitch (the distance between your seat and the one in front) and the seat height to consider.

The pitch makes it very hard to sit down and the seat may be too low both of which may mean you break the rule of 90 - one of the most fundamental post-operative hip precautions. The rule of 90 states that you mustn't close the gap between your body and your leg to less than 90 degrees.

Trying to sit down on a chair that is in a confined space means you can't stick your operated leg out to keep your hip at the right angle and sitting on a chair that is too low will inevitably mean breaking the rule.

I wrote to BA telling them that I was writing an article about flying after a hip replacement and asking them about the height of the seats. Sadly my question was brushed aside and I was told it was nothing to worry about. What they didn't tell me was the height of the seats! Perhaps it's a security issue?

If you can afford to upgrade to premium economy or even business clas then you will have more space to allow you to manoeuvre into position to sit down safely but the seat height might still be too low. I'll continue to try and find out about seat heights. If any one is flying soon please let the rest of us know.

Once the soft tissue around your hip has recovered then these rules can be relaxed.

Flying After SHip Replacement Surgery - Distance

Another important factor is how far you'll be flying. This will affect how comfortable you will be (or should that be how uncomfortable you'll be?) and the risk of forming a deep vein thrombosis.

Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery - Airport Security

I've flown eight times since my hip replacement last year and, unlike so many people I meet in the forums, have no problems with the increased measures taken as my hip sets the alarms bells ringing.

Pat Down and Wand

This has been the only option available until recently. The operator waves a wand over you that can detect metals and perhaps other substances and then pats you down. Most people have no problem with this at all though some find the pat down a bit too close for comfort.

If you're using a stick that will be taken from you for a few moments whilst it's whisked through a scanner and then returned to you. Airport staff have always been very helpful and kept me standing upright. If you're in a wheelchair you usually don't have to get out.

Full Body Scanners

Body Scanner

These are relatively new and quite controversial. Being scanned means you avoid the "intimate" pat down but are seen totally naked. However it is quick and very reliable.

Most countries that operate full body scanners allow you to opt to have one - this usually saves time in the long run. On the other hand if they ask you to have one you can't refuse - so it is something you should be prepared for.

Software developers are working on a "modesty" version which allows the machine to decide whether an operator needs to view the scan or not. For most of us this will work brilliantly.

Do arrive at the airport a bit earlier then usual to allow extra time for being wanded over a few times.

Some people think its enough to take a card from their doctor saying they've had a hip replacement but that won't work at all as they would be pathetically easy to fake.

Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery - Getting help at the airport

Don't be shy to order a wheelchair if you can't manage. All you need to do is phone customer care and tell them that you're flying after hip replacement surgery and they'll arrange for a wheelchair.

Standing in long queues with your carry on bag can result in a lot of pain and you don't want to be stuck on a flight, unable to move and in pain.

For some reason there doesn't seem to be an in-between service where someone just helps with your bag - you're in a wheelchair or on your own. The assistants are always helpful and whiz you through all the channels using a special aisle so you end up at the gate and settled into a chair in next to no time.

A wheelchair will also collect your from the plane when you arrive at your destination and should take you all the way to your car.

Flying After Hip Replacement Surgery - Choosing A Seat

You definitely want an aisle seat - don't even try to get into a window seat. Remember you're supposed to be getting out to stretch not sitting down the entire trip.

The best seat of all (outside first class!) is a bulkhead seat but these are not allocated until you arrive at the airport and can't be booked online. As soon as you arrive, go straight to a counter and ask for one - preferably an aisle one. They normally can help you. However these are the only seats where babies can sleep in cots so they tend to give them priority.

Do not attempt to sit in a seat next to a door. It is essential for safety that people sitting by the doors are able to move fast if there is an emergency. The crew will ask you to move if you have obvious limited mobility by which time you won't have any choice of where you get to sit.

Hip Surgery Abroad

An increasing number of people are going abroad for a hip replacement especially from places like the USA. Some are flying to Europe - Malta and Eastern Europe being particularly favoured destinations.

If you are considering going abroad then please factor in the cost of a post-operative stay in the country. Use the time as a recuperative holiday and focus on getting back to strength.

Related Links: 

Preparing for Recovery 
Essential Equipment 
Waling Aids

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