Almost all doctors will advise against air travel, in the month or two following major surgery. However, there are situations when this can’t be helped. If you must get on a plane after surgery, remember it poses a real risk to your health. Take these steps to minimize discomfort, and stay safe throughout the trip:
1. Increase the time between each leg of the trip
Say you need to fly from Singapore to the United States, and the usual flight time is 19 hours, with a one-hour layover in Japan – this is a punishing schedule. Instead, you could try to extend the time between each leg of the journey.
This could involve flying to Japan (five hours), then taking a full day to rest. You then make the remaining 14-hour flight after you’re refreshed. This is admittedly slower and may cost more. However, it will be more comfortable, and won’t take as big a toll on your health.
2. Walk around often to avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
Also known as “economy class syndrome”, DVT occurs when blood clots form in the large veins of the body (most commonly in the legs). This clot can travel to other parts of the body, such as the lungs, and cause death. The risk of DVT triples with of continuous sitting.
Common symptoms of DVT include swelling in the leg, redness of the skin, and aching pain that is hard to pinpoint. If the clot travels to the chest, it can cause difficulty breathing. Contact the airline staff for help immediately, if this happens. To avoid DVT, always get up and walk up and down the aisles. You should also consult your doctor on simple stretching exercises you can do.
3. Stay hydrated, as the cabin air is typically dry
Besides immobility, lack of hydration increases the risk of blood clots (see point 2). The air in cabins is typically dry and cool and is 66 percent less humid than air at sea level. The sad fact is, airlines to carry gallons of water to humidify the cabin air.
Stay hydrated by drinking water often. Avoid drinking alcohol and coffee, which are diuretics that leave you more thirsty than before. Note that you’re no longer allowed to bring large bottles of water on board the plane; you can ask for some after you’re seated.
4. Wear loose-fitting clothes
Try not to get on board with tight clothes or “stiff” clothes that would restrict circulation. Examples are tight jeans, business suits with tight collars, or clothes that are tight around the wrists and waist.
Apart from being uncomfortable, these clothes tend to cut off blood circulation. They also affect your ability to sleep or rest well (unless you’re one of the rare people who change clothes on airlines), thus adding stress to your body.
5. Aspirin before flights is commonly recommended, but check with your doctor first
The idea is that aspirin thins the blood, thus lowering the possibility of a blood clot. But you need to make sure this won’t impact your post-surgery situation.
6. If you just had surgery done on your legs/hips, inform the airline staff, and request a wheelchair even if you dislike being in it
If you just had major surgery in the knee, ankle, or hips, advise the airline staff in advance; they can sometimes arrange for you to have more leg room. Also, do inform the airport, and use the wheelchair even if you don’t like it. Remember that, in some countries, you may have to manually descend stairs to get off the plane.
If you are in a wheelchair, the airline will often make special arrangements so you don’t have to. You may also have to bring your hand-carry bags a significant distance. Using the wheelchair will minimize the strain of your recent surgery.
7. Get comprehensive travel insurance in case of future illness or injury
While travel insurance generally won’t cover you for pre-existing conditions, it’s still needed for unrelated injuries or illnesses, which may aggravate your situation. For example, say you’re traveling with a heart condition, and you get into an unrelated injury (e.g. you’re your bus gets into an accident and you get whiplash).
You’ll want to make sure you get the best care, as you don’t know if such injuries can aggravate your condition. Travel Protect360, by Hong Leong Assurance Singapore, provides unlimited coverage for medical evacuation. On top of that, you’ll get free access to the Changi Airport lounge plus 35 percent for their multiple trips Annual Insurance or a free wi-fi voucher with 55 percent off single-trip journeys.
By Ryan Ong
Disclaimer: All info contained herein is intended for your general information only and is not a substitute for insurance advice. If you have a specific question, please consult our insurance experts at 6702 0202.