Life changes a lot when a doctor diagnoses you with a disease or illness that requires significant treatment, like oxygen therapy. In some ways, these changes are good because you’ll start breathing easier and feeling better. But some of these changes can feel negative, like knowing you won’t be able to travel as easily as you did before. However, you can navigate some of these seemingly negative changes as long as you have the right information and support. For example, you can still travel and fly while on oxygen therapy—you just have to take different precautions. Keep reading to discover the complete guide to flying with an oxygen concentrator so you can prepare for this change and enjoy your trip.
Know Your Equipment
When you first start considering flying for your next travel destination, you have to make sure you own the right equipment for the trip. If you don’t, you may need to rent new equipment or consider exchanging your equipment for an improved model you can keep and take on regular travels.
You’ll know your portable oxygen concentrator (POC) can withstand your potential trip if it can function at an altitude of 8,000 feet. Airlines are required to keep their cabin pressure altitude in planes at 8,000 feet, so if your concentrator can go that high, it’s the right equipment for the trip. Many concentrators currently on the market can function at an altitude of 10,000 feet, so if your concentrator was a recent purchase, there’s a good chance it will work fine on an airplane.
To keep your POC working at its best throughout your trip, there are some must-have accessories you should bring along. You’ll need at least one extra battery, especially if it’s a long flight, and a battery charger so you can charge your spare battery while using the other. Most people who need oxygen therapy like to carry their POC in a case they can wear like a backpack or roll it with them in a cart. This frees up at least one hand to carry luggage, hand over documents, and interact with people. If you don’t have a spare battery or carrying case, you should consider purchasing both before your trip.
While all travel requires some planning, flying with a POC requires extra preparation. Once you’ve checked that your equipment can withstand the potential travel, you need to check with your doctor and alert the airline you plan to take.
Many people who require oxygen therapy see their pulmonologist regularly, so they might think that a good bill of health from their last appointment covers any travel plans. This is true for some people but not for everyone. Just because your lungs are doing well in their current state doesn’t mean they can take the stress of high-altitude travel, even while using oxygen. Or, if your lungs can take that stress, you may need to adjust your oxygen usage. Visiting your doctor before your trip to ask if it’s safe and whether you need to make any changes is an important part of the travel planning process for people on oxygen. While there, you should also get a note that you can share with the airline and other officials so they understand all the equipment you have on your person.
Most airlines will require the note we mentioned above when you call and inform them that you need to travel with a POC. They may also require information regarding your specific equipment, as certain airlines only permit the use of certain equipment. You need to have everything about your condition and equipment in writing so you can book your plane ticket and easily answer any questions that the airline may have. Bring additional copies of this written evidence when you board the plane, just in case an official in the airport or on the plane needs to see it.
Going to your doctor and gathering this evidence takes time, which is why it’s important to plan early for flying. You can still enjoy travel and hopping onto an exciting flight. You just need to plan a little sooner and have more details available than people who don’t use oxygen.
Using your POC in the air is about keeping you safe and healthy, but it’s still important to consider others. Where you store your device and where your seat is could impact the safety and health of others, so you need to pay attention to those details when you board the plane.
You need to store your device somewhere that you can easily reach in case of an emergency and that will give your tubing enough space to function. The best place for this is beneath the seat. Your tubing should be able to fit in front of your seat and up your lap or between the seats and along your arm without becoming a tripping hazard for other people. Store your manual with it so you can easily troubleshoot any problems that arise in the air. That way, you won’t have to go digging through your bag in search of it at the last minute.
The location of your seat also matters. It’s against FAA policy for anyone using portable oxygen to sit in an emergency row. This is not a discriminatory policy—anyone with a condition that could prevent them from properly assisting in an emergency or could cause them to get hurt in an emergency is prohibited from sitting in the emergency row. This includes people on oxygen, people with mental health complications, and more. If you board the plane and realize that your seat is in an emergency row, inform a flight attendant. They should be able to move you without incident.
Our complete guide to flying with an oxygen concentrator focuses mostly on preparation before you get on the plane, but knowing safety guidelines for storage and seating is important as well. Using oxygen therapy shouldn’t keep you from flying. It just requires some extra preparation and consideration. If you’ve recently started oxygen therapy and are interested in a compact oxygen machine that’s perfect for travel, Bridge to Care can help. Our POCs are affordable, high quality, and lightweight, so they make the perfect healthy travel companions.