Contributed by Jim Nelson, consultant to CAIRE Inc. ~
You should check with your pulmonologist or primary care physician about your needs. Neither you nor your doc may be aware that commercial airlines are pressurized to supply the same amount of oxygen that is available from room air at 8,000 feet!
So, if you need supplemental oxygen at 8,000 feet to keep your saturation level near or above 90%, you will need to make arrangements for an oxygen source that you can carry onto the plane.
Oxygen tanks and liquid oxygen portables are not allowed on any U. S. airline. Portable oxygen concentrators, (POCs) are, but not all of them. Check the website for the airline that you plan to use, as the rules do vary somewhat. Many airlines have their own form that must be signed by a physician. Find out which POCs they accept. Plan on carrying enough battery power to last at least one and one-half times the scheduled time of the flight.
Check with your doctor to determine whether it would be safe for you to disconnect from the POC during the time that it takes to go through the TSA screening process. He or she will likely ask to see your medical documentation, so have it ready. Do not be surprised if they examine your POC to check for explosive material. It’s just their job.
So what to do if you don’t happen to own a POC? You can obviously buy one. There are many brands available, with varying capacities. Some of them are quite light in weight, while others may be easier to handle if they are carried on a little cart similar to carry-on luggage. Before your settle on a particular brand or model, make sure that it meets your needs and that it is acceptable by the airlines.
Used units are available, but it would be wise to limit your shopping to units that have been reconditioned by a reputable dealer or service facility. Again, make sure that it will supply enough oxygen for your needs.
Also, units may be rented on a short-term or long-term basis. The same rules apply, because the rental unit will likely be used. It is your lifeline, so be sure that you can be confident in it.
POCs come in two types; constant flow and pulse dose. At the time of this writing, there are no constant flow machines that can supply more than 3 liters per minute (LPM). So, if you require more than 3 liters at rest at 8,000 feet to maintain proper saturation, you might have to consider another form of transportation. Trains and bus lines have their own rules, so check with them.
A last note on POCs; they can run on batteries or house current or the power outlet in your car. They are incredibly handy for traveling by car or motor home, and can alleviate the need to carry more than a few oxygen tanks. It is obviously wise to carry a few tanks with you just in case your POC breaks down. If you are traveling by plane, arrange with your oxygen supplier to have a few tanks and possibly a larger home concentrator ready for you at your destination.
Much the same rules apply to other respiratory equipment such as: Nebulizers, CPAPs, BiPAPs, and APAPs.
Now for the good part! You are perfectly within your rights to request a wheelchair from the terminal entry to the plane. We have done that several times, and it is the only way to go! They will help you with your carry-on bags, POC, etc., and many times you will be able to bypass the line at the TSA desk.
~ Uncle Jim
Jim Nelson is a double lung transplant recipient and a patient advocate for COPD patients throughout the U.S. and around the world. He and his wife, Mary, are well known patient advocates and brand ambassadors for those organizations who tirelessly endeavor to help those individuals who suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases and the caregivers who support them.
Want to know more about traveling with oxygen? Learn more by clicking this link to download the CAIRE Travel Guide. All CAIRE portable oxygen concentrators are FAA approved for commercial air flights. Also, find helpful resources on our CAIRE Travel and Safety.
If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy, learn more about CAIRE wearable, portable and stationary oxygen concentrators by visiting www.cairemedical.com or calling 1-877-704-0878 to talk to an oxygen advisor.
When using any oxygen therapy device please consult the applicable product instructions for use for product indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and detailed safety information.
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