Addressing Concerns of Flying After Total Knee Replacement Surgery

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Fly the friendly skies after surgery? It’s possible!

Most people have traveled by plane at some point in their lives, whether it was for business or pleasure, enduring airport security, confined in small spaces with little leg room (unless flying first class), too-small restroom facilities, and other concerns that sometimes cramp smooth traveling to and from destinations dealt with long before total knee replacements (TKR’s) entered the picture.

Since my own surgery in January, I’ve been basically “grounded” from traveling to and from Florida with my significant other. While I’m sure things would go with little or no incident during the present phase of my recovery, Don and I agreed it was best that the orthopedic surgeon make his final decision and if approved, provide the necessary documentation needed for airport security.

With artificial knee implants come new questions on the topic of air travel, and today I’ll address some most important ones.

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When Is It Safe To Fly After Knee Replacement Surgery?

According to a Tufts Medical Center report, flying can be safe once the patient feels comfortable in a sitting position, usually a minimum of 3-4 weeks (however, many surgeons advise waiting at least 4-6 weeks).

The three-week time line doesn’t apply to everyone; some patients can tolerate sitting for long periods of time better than others. Perhaps try going for car rides first to see how long sitting can be comfortably endured before booking your next flight.

Walking from your car to and from the airport terminal and periods of leaving your seat during long flights (when safe to do so) help reduce risk of blood clots forming. If possible, ask for an aisle seat to make leaving and returning more accessible.

On that note…

Is It Okay To Request a Disabled Airline Seat With Knee Replacements?

Face it; it’s more important to stretch out once our new knees are in place and most flyers are found in the coach/economy classes. It’s common knowledge these sections are not the most comfortable areas to sit, particularly on long flights.

A “regular” seat may suffice depending on one’s comfort level, stage of healing, and/or how long someone has had their knee implants. On the other hand, anyone who had past difficulty rising from a coach/economy seat may consider requesting an ADA one for their next flight.

A couple notes on booking ADA seats:

Some airlines will not allow customers to be pre-book this type of seating until 3-7 days prior to departure of flight reservation. Others will not assign ADA seats until passengers arrive at the gate to the plane. However, a few other airlines will assign one in advance, but will usually specify that anyone confined to a wheelchair, accompanied by a service animal or other high-priority ADA issues will be seated first in this area. Be sure to check with your airlines for their policies on ADA seating and how far in advance they may be requested.

Will My Implant Affect Airport Security Clearance?

There is the often-raised question about airport security issues following knee replacement surgery. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) states the following on their web site:

If a passenger has metal implants, such as artificial knees or hips, he or she should inform a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) before screening begins. Passengers can use TSA’s Notification Card to communicate discreetly with security officers. However, showing this card or other medical documentation will not exempt a passenger from additional screening.

Many passengers with metal implants that regularly alarm a metal detector prefer to be screened by imaging technology in order to reduce the likelihood of a pat down being necessary. A passenger can request to be screened by imaging technology if it is in use and available at the checkpoint.

If a passenger cannot or chooses not to be screened by imaging technology or the passenger alarms a walk-through metal detector, the passenger will be screened using a thorough pat down procedure.

A study by The National Institute of Health showed out of the 154 patients responded, half of the implants were detected, but the majority of patients were not significantly inconvenienced. When detected, only 9% of patients were asked for documentary evidence of their implant. Patients with a total knee replacement had a greater chance of detection as compared to those with a total hip replacement.

Although knee replacement implants had a fair chance of detection by airport security, a major disruption was unlikely.

The aforementioned TSA Notification Card can be downloaded online at this link, or request proper documentation from your orthopedic surgeon or primary physician.

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In conclusion, listen to your bodies; you live in and know its limits better than anyone. It’s perfectly all right not to be able to resume one’s travel schedule right away. When the day does come, enjoy and have a safe flight!

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