Common Health Questions

When can I fly after surgery?

It depends on what regulations your airline has and what type of surgery you’ve had.

Check before you fly

Each airline has its own regulations about flying after surgery. Check with your airline before you fly, particularly if you’ve had complicated surgery.

If you’ve had any kind of major surgery, you should also check with your surgeon or GP before flying.

Types of surgery

As a rough guide, the Civil Aviation Authority says that before flying, you should allow:

  • one to two days after keyhole surgery (when surgery is done through a small hole with special instruments)
  • 10 days after simple abdominal (tummy) surgery
  • 10-14 days after chest surgery or a coronary artery bypass graft 
  • one day after simple cataract or corneal laser surgery
  • seven days after more complicated eye surgery
  • two to six weeks after surgery for retinal detachment that involves having a gas bubble put in your eye
  • seven days after brain surgery
  • one day after a colonoscopy (where a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end is used to investigate the large bowel)

You may need to wait three months before flying if you’ve had:

  • any part of your lung removed (a lung resection)
  • a joint replacement, such as a hip or knee replacement

Medical conditions

Restrictions may also apply to flying with other medical conditions, such as:

  • heart attack (when part of the heart muscle dies because it is starved of oxygen)
  • heart failure (when your heart is not pumping blood around your body efficiently)
  • hypoxic pulmonary disease (when your body’s tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen)
  • pnuemothorax (when air is trapped in your chest)

Risk of DVT

If you’re flying after recent surgery, you’re at an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis or DVT (a blood clot in one of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs).

Your risk of DVT from flying is:

  • high: if you’ve had surgery in the last four weeks under general anaesthetic (painkilling medication that makes you unconscious) for at least 30 minutes
  • medium: if you’ve had surgery in the last two months (but not in the last four weeks) under general anaesthetic for at least 30 minutes
  • low: if you haven’t had surgery in the last two months

Other factors may also increase your risk of DVT, for example, if you:

  • have had DVT before
  • have varicose veins

If you’re at high risk of DVT, speak to your GP before flying. They may seek specialist advice, for example, from your surgeon, or may recommend you delay your trip.

If you’re at medium or low risk, you should take steps to reduce your risk of DVT, such as drinking plenty of water and moving around on the plane.

Our Health A-Z has more information about preventing DVT.

Travel insurance

Check your travel insurance policy carefully, as you may need to inform the insurance company that you’ve recently had surgery. This could increase the cost of your travel insurance.

Last Updated: 21 November 2011