Flying with a broken ankle: what you need to know

First things first: you should absolutely consult your doctor before flying with a broken ankle. Every situation is different, and the advice I’ll give in this article is based on my own personal experience. I share it here because I was hungry for information when I broke my ankle, and would have loved to read someone’s firsthand account of traveling. 

I’m not a medical professional, but I am someone who broke her ankle, flew to Greece, and had no regrets (except for breaking it in the first place). 

Lauren, a white woman in her 40s, sits on a whitewashed ledge with the white and blue buildings of Santorini behind her. She is wearing a white long-sleeved linen shirt and olive green shorts. Her right leg is extended to show her waling boot. She has a white tennis shoe on her left foot.
The boot = my hero.

The broken ankle backstory

How I broke my ankle

I broke the bottom of my fibula surfing in St. Augustine, Florida, five weeks before a long-planned trip to Greece. You can read the whole story here

I was very lucky and did not need surgery. The fracture was nondisplaced, which meant the two pieces of bone were in the right position for healing. I was in a splint and crutches for just under a week before transitioning to a boot and crutches. 

I had another x-ray two weeks before our 10-hour flight from Atlanta to Athens to confirm that the ligaments hadn’t pulled the bone out of place. When my orthopedist saw that the bones were still in the right position, he confidently told me to start weight bearing in the boot and get rid of the crutches before going to Greece. 

My five-week ankle mobility progression

Once I was cleared to walk in the boot, it took a week of practicing around the house to get down to one crutch, then to stop using them altogether. By the time the trip rolled around I was walking unimpeded in the boot, with my doctor’s blessing to start transitioning carefully out of the boot around six weeks, towards the end of our trip. 

Deciding to go ahead with the trip

We almost called off the trip, and if I hadn’t been able to ditch the crutches I think we would have. Of course you can still travel with crutches, but it would have been challenging given the uneven ground, inclines, steep staircases, and ferries we had ahead of us. 

View from a gate at the top of a steep whitewashed staircase that leads to a walkway overlooking the volcanic crater from Santorini. The sun is setting and a large cruise ship is docked in the water.
I didn’t fancy going up these stairs in crutches.

We had already cancelled a trip to Boston for the week after I broke my ankle—the thought of navigating Boston’s streets on crutches, not to mention the airport and my luggage, was unappealing. 

Weight bearing in the boot made all the difference. It meant I didn’t have to worry about my ankle swelling in the cast when we flew, and that I could get around reasonably well once we were there. It was the right decision, but if I’d been on crutches staying home would have been the right call for us. 

Before flying with a broken ankle

Make any necessary accommodations with your airline

We flew Delta, and you can request airport assistance through the app or in the My Trips section of the website. My options were either requesting wheelchair service to the gate, the airplane’s entrance, or all the way to my seat. I originally had planned for assistance to the gate, but cancelled it once I knew I was comfortable walking reasonable distances in the boot. 

Also—tip your wheelchair assistants, especially if they’re helping with bulky luggage or crutches!

And speaking of crutches, you should be able to ask a flight attendant to store them for you on the plane, but it won’t hurt to check with the airline in advance. 

If you’re planning to travel with a knee scooter,check with your airline about storage. You may need to check it just before you get on the plane. I had a basic knee scooter that was great for getting around the apartment, but it would not have stood a chance on Greek Island terrain. Test your scooter out before you commit to bringing it with you, especially if it’s not a heavy-duty one!

Explore your seating options when flying with a broken ankle

Flying with a broken bone is not fun, especially when you’re talking about long-haul flights. There’s an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, or dvt, which can lead to a pulmonary embolism. Usually passengers can get up and move around throughout the flight to stimulate blood flow and reduce this risk, but with a broken lower limb that becomes more challenging. 

Lauren is flying with a broken ankle. Two compression-socked feet under black leggings stretch across to a footrest in a first-class airplane seat. A large seatback tv is visible.
This is the ideal scenario.

Even before the fractured bone, we’d already jumped on a first class upgrade offer for our return leg from Athens to Atlanta, so that was a huge relief. After the incident, I was prepared to splash out for first class on the way there, but there were no additional seats available in first class. I even called Delta to see if there were any special seating arrangements where I could prop up my leg, but no dice. I made do with limited legroom and it was honestly better than I thought. 

Remember that with a broken bone you’re barred from emergency exit seats — normal seat only. Do your best to get an aisle seat!

Talk to your doctor about a split cast

If you’re in a plaster cast your doctor may recommend a cast split—they’ll cut it to allow for tissue swelling over the duration of the flight. I’m not sure how this works with a fibreglass cast, or what you’re supposed to do once you land. Again, this is a conversation to have with your doctor and not the internet. 

Purchase in-flight accessories as needed

I bought a few things that really helped for the economy flight to Greece:

  • Compression socks: combat swelling in the lower leg 
  • Foot hammock: I hate not having a footrest and this was awesome. It might have been annoying for the person in front of me but they didn’t complain so I’d do it again in a second. 
  • Baby aspirin: my doctor suggested I take low-dose aspirin (81mg) to reduce the risk of blood clots, but he didn’t seem too worried either way. 

Packing your bag

I try to travel carry-on whenever possible so this trip was no different. I was able to pull my own bag, but with crutches that would have been virtually impossible. Jared would most certainly have been saddled with the bag. 

An unexpected bonus—I only packed one of each shoe I wanted to bring, which did free up some space in the suitcase. 

Flying with a broken ankle: on the plane

Pre-boarding

There’s a point during the boarding process when the flight attendants invite anyone who needs extra time to pre-board. If you have limited mobility due to a broken ankle, that is you! I was grateful for the chance to board before the crush of people at the gate and have extra time to put my carry-on in the overhead bins. 

I didn’t have to do anything in particular because my boot was visible, but if you’re worried just check in with an airline representative before boarding begins. 

During the flight

I was able to remove my boot during the flight when I was sitting down. It made for cramped quarters in front of my seat, but was much more comfortable. I also tried to at least stand and move around a bit when things were quiet mid-flight. I suspect the sound of me ripping the velcro straps off every hour was annoying but so is having a broken ankle. Do what you gotta do!

Deplaning with a broken ankle

​There’s not too much to say here; give yourself grace, take your time, and accept offers of help! Oh, and try not to crush anyone’s toes with your boot.

I hope you don’t need this post, but if you do…pin it for later

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