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Flying with Oxygen: A Comprehensive Guide for Oxygen-dependent Travelers

Flying with Oxygen: A Comprehensive Guide for Oxygen-dependent Travelers

Apria Editorial |

If you have a medical condition that requires you to use supplemental oxygen, you may wonder if you can still travel by air. The answer is yes, but you need to plan ahead and follow some important steps to ensure a safe and comfortable flight. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about flying with oxygen, from the risks and challenges to the tips and tricks.

Can You Fly With Oxygen?

Flying with oxygen means using supplemental oxygen during air travel. Supplemental oxygen is a medical treatment that delivers extra oxygen to your lungs through a device such as a nasal cannula or a mask. Some people need supplemental oxygen because they have a chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis, or cystic fibrosis. Others may need it because they have a heart condition, such as congestive heart failure or pulmonary hypertension. Some people may only need supplemental oxygen at high altitudes, such as during flights.

Why is Oxygen Important During Flights?

Oxygen is essential for life. It helps your cells function properly and provides energy for your body. However, the amount of oxygen in the air decreases as the altitude increases. This means that when you fly, you breathe in less oxygen than you do on the ground. For most healthy people, this is not a problem, as their bodies can adapt to the lower oxygen levels. However, for people with lung or heart conditions, this can cause serious complications, such as low blood oxygen levels (hypoxemia), shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, headache, confusion, or even loss of consciousness. Therefore, these people may need supplemental oxygen during flights to prevent these symptoms and avoid worsening their condition.

Who Should Fly with Oxygen?

If you have a lung or heart condition that affects your breathing, you should consult your doctor before flying. Your doctor can assess your oxygen needs and determine if you need supplemental oxygen during flights. Your doctor can also prescribe the appropriate oxygen flow rate and duration for your flight. Generally, if your blood oxygen level (measured by a pulse oximeter) is below 88% at sea level or below 95% at an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), you may need supplemental oxygen during flights. However, this may vary depending on your condition and other factors.

What are the Risks and Challenges of Flying with Oxygen?

Flying with oxygen can pose some risks and challenges for travelers who depend on it. Some of these include:

Health considerations: Flying can affect your health in various ways, such as causing dehydration, swelling, ear pain, sinus pressure, or blood clots. These effects can be more pronounced for people who use supplemental oxygen. Therefore, you should follow your doctor's advice and take precautions to minimize these risks.

Regulatory guidelines: Airlines have different rules and regulations regarding flying with oxygen. You need to comply with these guidelines to ensure your safety and avoid any problems during your flight. For example, most airlines do not allow passengers to bring their own compressed oxygen cylinders on board, but they may allow portable oxygen concentrators (POCs). You also need to obtain a medical certificate from your doctor and inform the airline in advance if you plan to fly with oxygen.

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Common misconceptions: Some people may have misconceptions about flying with oxygen, such as thinking that it is dangerous, expensive, or difficult. These misconceptions can discourage them from traveling or cause them anxiety during their trip. However, flying with oxygen can be safe, affordable, and easy if you plan ahead and follow the proper steps.

How to Prepare for Flying with Oxygen?

If you decide to fly with oxygen, you need to prepare well in advance to ensure a smooth and hassle-free trip. Here are some steps you should take before your flight:

Consultation with healthcare professionals: As mentioned earlier, you should consult your doctor before flying to determine if you need supplemental oxygen during flights and what flow rate and duration you should use. Your doctor can also provide you with a medical certificate that states your diagnosis, medication list, oxygen prescription, and fitness to fly. You should also consult your oxygen supplier to arrange for the delivery of your oxygen equipment to your destination or the airport.

Portable oxygen concentrators vs. compressed oxygen: You should choose the type of oxygen equipment that suits your needs and preferences. Most airlines do not allow passengers to bring their own compressed oxygen cylinders on board due to safety reasons. However, they may allow portable oxygen concentrators (POCs), which are battery-powered devices that produce oxygen from the air. POCs are more convenient and cost-effective than compressed oxygen cylinders because they do not require refills or special handling. However, they also have some limitations, such as battery life, weight, size, and noise level. Therefore, it is important to choose the type of oxygen equipment that best suits your needs and preferences while also complying with the airline’s policies and procedures.

Preparing to fly with oxygen

Before you embark on your journey, there are several things you need to do to prepare. First, you should consult with your doctor to ensure that you are healthy enough to travel. Your doctor may also need to provide you with a letter stating that you require oxygen therapy.

Next, you should contact your airline to inform them that you will be traveling with oxygen. Each airline has its own policies and procedures for traveling with oxygen, so it is important to familiarize yourself with these before your trip. You should also ask your airline if they provide oxygen on board or if you need to bring your own.

Navigating Airport Security

Navigating airport security can be stressful for anyone, but it can be especially challenging for respiratory patients traveling with oxygen. To make the process as smooth as possible, you should arrive at the airport early and inform the TSA agent that you are traveling with oxygen.

You will need to provide the TSA agent with your doctor’s letter and any other documentation required by your airline. You will also need to remove your oxygen from its carrying case and place it in a bin for screening.

In-Flight Oxygen Use

When you are on board the plane, you may need to use your oxygen. If your airline provides oxygen on board, you will need to request it in advance. If you are bringing your own oxygen, you will need to ensure that you have an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator and that it’s labeled properly.

It is also important to note that some airlines do not allow passengers to bring their own oxygen on board. In these cases, you will need to find out which airlines provide inflight oxygen.

Flying with an oxygen concentrator is possible, when you plan

Traveling with prescription oxygen can be challenging, but with the right preparation and knowledge, it is possible to travel safely and comfortably. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can ensure that your next trip is a success.

FAQs

Can you fly on an airplane with oxygen?
Yes, you can fly on an airplane with oxygen. However, you need to follow the airline's safety rules before you can travel. You will also need to contact the airline at least two weeks before your trip to make arrangements ²³.

In what state should I take oxygen on a plane?
Oxygen can generally be taken on a plane in two forms: liquid oxygen or compressed oxygen. The form you need to take oxygen on a plane largely depends on your specific medical condition and the level of assistance you require.

Does flying affect your oxygen levels?
Yes, flying can affect your oxygen levels. The pressure, temperature, and oxygen levels in the cabin fluctuate, and the humidity level is lower than it is at sea level. This can cause discomfort or illness during the flight, especially for those with low oxygen levels in their blood.
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