Flying with a broken leg

Breaking your leg while abroad is not just painful, it can also make returning home difficult. Here’s our advice for flying with a broken leg.

First, speak to your doctor. Flying with a broken leg can impede the healing process. It’s best to follow your doctor’s advice, and seek their guidance on whether flying is advisable or not. If your doctor clears you to fly, it’s sensible to ask for a ‘fit to fly’ certificate that you can show to your airline if necessary.

Flying with broken leg

How soon can I fly?

Most airlines won’t allow you on to a flight within 24 hours of breaking a leg. Some airlines require you to wait 24 hours after a plaster cast has been fitted for a flight lasting less than 2 hours, and 48 hours for longer flights.

You will need to book at least one extra seat (Ryanair requires booking 2 extra seats), so if your original flight is full then you’ll need to rebook your ticket for a later flight. This is so that you can keep your leg elevated during the flight. You won’t be able to sit in an emergency exit seat, so you may need to rebook seats in a different section of the plane.

In addition to this, most airlines will ask you to have your cast split down its full length, if it has been on your leg for less than 48 hours. This is because your leg can swell on the flight, which can be uncomfortable and increase the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

Getting to the flight

Even if you meet the airline’s criteria on flying after breaking a leg, you may still have to wait a few days before flying. This is because getting to the flight may be a challenge, and some airlines require you to book extra assistance for getting on to the flight – such as a wheelchair – 48 hours in advance.

Airports often have 15-20 minute walks to the gate which will be difficult if you have a broken leg. It’s advisable that you contact your airline and book a wheelchair to take you to the gate. Make sure you allow extra time to get to the gate and on to the flight. You can ask for assistance getting on the flight, but make sure that the assistance they can offer will be enough to help you up the steps onto the plane.

Another question to consider is, how you are going to get your luggage to the airport, as you can’t pull a suitcase while on crutches, and a large backpack can impede your balance. Travelling with a friend is ideal – especially when collecting your baggage at the end of the flight, as the airline’s assistance might not extend past the flight itself.

On the flight

Keep your leg moving as much as you can by flexing and circling it. This will help your circulation. Drinking water will also help protect you against DVT. The airline crew are likely to stow your crutches during takeoff and landing, so you will need to ask for them back to use the toilet. Other passengers will generally be understanding of your condition and won’t mind if you move slowly in the aisles.

What if I can’t fly?

You will be unable to fly if you have broken both your legs, or if you can’t physically get to the flight or onto the plane. You will also be unable to fly if you have a pneumatic splint which is affected by changes in cabin pressure. Or you may feel that your flight is too long to be able to fly comfortably.

Medical repatriation companies like EMS specialise in getting you where you need to go. We can provide a repatriation doctor or nurse – called a medical escort – to accompany you on board a commercial flight, which could make it possible for you to get your original flight home. If commercial flights aren’t an option then our medical planes can take you home, often the same day, with expert medical support and equipment. We also have specially equipped ambulances which can drive you home if flying is not an option at all.

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