Skip to main content

Can I fly after surgery?

An airport departure board
Click to enlarge

How do you find out when you can fly after a surgical procedure

Hospital stays have been decreasing in length and day surgery is becoming the norm for many procedures. Add to that rising numbers of people seeking medical treatment abroad – medical tourism – the question of how soon is it safe to fly after a surgical procedure arises more often.

Speak with your healthcare team about post-surgical travel

The best way to get advice about when it is safe to travel after having an operation is by asking your healthcare team. If you are hoping to travel soon after an operation, you may be at greater risk than usual from complications. So, it’s important to share your plans with your healthcare team. Travelling against medical advice may negate your insurance.

What are the risks of flying after surgery?

An aircraft cabin is a stressful setting at the best of times. The slightly lower pressure puts a strain on the body, and this may be amplified in post-surgical patients, causing more discomfort than usual, or even harm. So, surgeons and doctors often recommend waiting a few days or weeks after your procedure before going in a plane.

After surgery, patients have a higher oxygen requirement than usual; but the reduce pressure of an aircraft cabin forces the body to work harder to get oxygen.

Gas in the intestines expands by 30% during air travel because of the low-pressure atmosphere. Some procedures involve gas being introduced to body cavities. This expansion can cause more discomfort if you are already sore following your procedure; or it can even rip stitches or cause bleeding.

Some eye operations will change your intra-ocular pressure and sitting in a low-pressure aircraft cabin could set your recovery back.

Your surgeon and healthcare team will have specific advice for your case, and it’s really important to discuss your travel plans with them to ensure you don’t set back your recovery or put yourself at risk from dangerous complications because you could not wait to fly.

Check in with your travel insurer

A recent surgical procedure may have an impact on your travel insurance, so talk with your usual insurer to make sure your travel health insurance is right for you after your operation.

What’s the healthcare like at my destination?

If you’re taking a vacation to recover from a procedure, it’s worth considering how you will get medical help at your destination. Canada has excellent health services, but you may not get the same level of care in some countries. And not all places have emergency services, either. See our article on getting medical help while traveling for more considerations.

Should medical tourists get vaccinated?

Most travel vaccines can be given well in advance of your trip, and provide long-lasting protection. Make a travel health appointment at least six to eight weeks before you travel and let the travel health adviser know you are going abroad for a medical procedure. You may also wish to get advice from your usual healthcare team.

The Centers for Disease Control have advice for people travelling for medical procedures.