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 (CAA) 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)
  • four to five days after simple abdominal (tummy) surgery, and 10 days for more complicated abdominal surgery
  • 10 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
  • one day after a colonoscopy (where a thin flexible tube with a camera on the end is used to investigate the large bowel) 

For other types of surgery, allow:

  • two to six weeks after surgery for retinal detachment that involves having a gas bubble put in your eye
  • six weeks after a craniotomy and four weeks after a brain biopsy
  • one to two days after surgery where a plaster cast is applied – if you have a broken arm or leg, it will affect where you can sit (for example, you won't be allowed to sit in an emergency seat and you may have to purchase an extra seat if you cannot bend your knee to sit normally)

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. CAA has general guidance for:

  • heart attack – you may fly after 7 to 10 days provided there have not been any complications
  • heart failure – most people who have heart failure can still fly provided that the condition is stable and well controlled with treatment

Risk of DVT

If you're flying after recent surgery, especially on the hips or knees, 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).

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

  • have had DVT before
  • have had blood clots already
  • have a family history of blood clot
  • are overweight or obese
  • are pregnant

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

You can take steps to reduce your risk of DVT, such as drinking plenty of water and moving around on the plane.

It's important to note, however, that the absolute risk of developing a travel-related DVT is low, even if you are classed as moderate to high risk.

Travelling with a pacemaker

People who have had a pacemaker or an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) fitted may travel without problems once they are medically stable.

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. 

Read the answers to more questions about travel health.

Further information:

Travel health

A simple guide to health precautions when travelling abroad, including vaccinations, taking condoms and a first aid kit, and being careful about drinking water.

Media last reviewed: 02/10/2013

Next review due: 02/10/2015

Page last reviewed: 07/04/2014

Next review due: 06/04/2016