Dear COPD Coach,
My husband is a COPD patient and uses oxygen. We will be flying soon to our daughter’s wedding. This is the first time we have flown since my husband was diagnosed. We have arranged to rent a portable oxygen concentrator for the trip. Are there any tips we need to know before taking this trip?
Dear Wedding Jitters,
Flying with oxygen today is much easier than it used to be, thanks to new legislation providing oxygen patients access to air travel. With that said, there are still some obstacles that need your attention.
First, it is very important that you obtain the unit you are renting a few days prior to your travel. The extra time will allow you to make certain that the unit functions properly, and give you the opportunity to get familiar with it. The last thing you want or need is to start your journey only to find out the unit is not working correctly, or that you don’t know how to use it. A problem with many rental units is that the batteries may be old or not properly maintained. Be sure you are able to use the unit for the full amount of time you will need it while flying.
Airlines require that you have 150% of the battery capacity you will need for your trip. That means if the flight is 2 hours, you would need 3 hours worth of battery. Please note that this does not include your traveling time to and from the airport, or the time waiting for your flight (although in the time spent waiting at the gate you can save the battery by plugging into a wall outlet as mentioned later in this reply)
Make sure that you carry the extra batteries you will need and your charger in your carry-on luggage, along with enough of your medications to last you a couple days in case your luggage gets lost. Also be sure to carry a spare cannula! Your letter did not say if you require oxygen 24/7 or just for flying. If you do require oxygen full time, make sure you have made arrangements for oxygen at your destination or that the concentrator you have is capable of being your 24/7 source.
All airlines require that a medical form be on file prior to your flight. This form specifies what type of POC you are traveling with, your liter flow and must be signed by your doctor, also asking for parameters on how you should adjust your oxygen setting in case of low oxygen saturations during flight or with an increased altitude at your destinationYou need to check your airline’s website for a copy of their form. Some airlines only require that you bring the form with you at check-in, however, most will require you to fax it to them at least 48 hours prior to your flight. You must also have the form “on your person” at all times during the flight. Most airlines require oxygen patients to sit in a window seat, but most will not automatically make those arrangements.
The reason for having you sit by the window is that in an emergency, your seat mates will not be hindered by trying to get around your equipment and hoses. Well before your flight, call their reservations number, explain that you are traveling with oxygen and request a window seat.
Airlines require that you check in at the ticket counter, and most will not allow an oxygen user to check in prior to the flight on the internet. When you get to the ticket counter you will be required to show them your unit and demonstrate that you have enough batteries for the trip with a 50% reserve. Get to the airport early and allow yourself plenty of extra time.
It is never a bad idea to request a wheel chair, and in fact it has many advantages. Your oxygen level will tend to be less get desaturated from all the walking, you will speed through security and you will be more rested for the remainder of your trip. When you get to your gate, look for a seat next to an electrical outlet, and immediately start charging your unit to full capacity.
Most flights board about a half hour before departure. Well before the boarding process, make sure to use a restroom. It is difficult to leave your seat once you are in the air if you feel the need to use the facilities during the flight.
In every case, always request to board the flight early. This allows you time to get settled and relaxed prior to the flight. Also make sure that you have your batteries handy and that you carry a pulse oximeter to check your oxygen saturations regularly during the flight. If your sats start to go down, don’t hesitate to adjust your oxygen!
Hope this helps, and have a great trip!
The COPD Coach
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