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Traveling With Oxygen

Living with lung disease when you need to use oxygen can be a challenge, but it doesn’t mean that you must give up all of the good things in life, including traveling. It does mean that you will need to plan carefully and consult your doctor before you head out the door. New guidelines by the FAA on portable oxygen concentrators are making it much easier for many people who depend on oxygen, to travel. These concentrators can alleviate the need to carry a lot of extra tanks or to arrange for equipment at your destination.

These new portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) are smaller than the traditional oxygen concentrators and run on rechargeable batteries. The POC will not work for everyone, so it is best to have the medical equipment company who supplies these devices to give you a demonstration and a trial run before switching over completely. Many medical companies are making them available for their patients on traditional oxygen concentrators when they travel.

Part of planning your trip should include making an appointment with your physician to talk with him or her about your travel plans. Once your plans have been made, contact your medical equipment company to how to best meet your needs.

If you are thinking about traveling you will need to consider the following points:

  1. Is the destination suitable?
    Choose areas of similar elevation to home. Areas of higher elevation have less oxygen in the air. It is also a good idea to avoid driving through areas of high elevation if you are going by bus, train or car.
  2. Will you tolerate the climate?
    High humidity and extreme temperatures (very hot or very cold) can make breathing more difficult.
  3. Is air pollution a problem where you are going?
    Many cities have high levels of air pollution that can make symptoms like cough, wheezing and shortness of breath much worse. It is best to choose a location with clean air.
  4. Do you have seasonal allergies?
    If so, travel during the season your allergies give you the least trouble.

If you can’t get one of the newer POCs, you will need to make sure you have a source of oxygen along the way.

Car Trips

If you will be traveling by car, your oxygen supplier can arrange for you to have oxygen along the way from other oxygen suppliers. If your car is big enough, you can take your concentrator along and use oxygen tanks when you don’t have an electrical source.

Store the oxygen tanks safely by keeping them upright and away from direct sunlight or other heat sources. Make sure no one smokes in the car. Never leave the tanks in a hot car. It is best to never travel alone and to have a way of contacting help if you need it. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order and map the route you will take and where you will pick up oxygen supplies. If you will be staying in motels or hotels, call ahead and make reservations and let them know you will be using oxygen in the room

Bus Trips

Policies on carrying oxygen can vary from bus line to bus line. Check ahead to find out the rules for bringing oxygen aboard.

Some lines will allow you to bring a companion with you at no cost so check when you call. You will probably need a note from your doctor saying that you need a traveling companion.

Train Trips

Rules will vary depending on the train line, so call ahead to find out if you can use your concentrator using the train’s power or if you will need a back-up generator. Most require a traveling companion and a private room on the train is recommended.

Cruises

The travel agent arranging the cruise will be able to help you with your oxygen needs. Some cruise lines will provide the oxygen while others may require you bring your own. Work with your oxygen supply company to calculate how many tanks you will need or to arrange to pick up tanks at ports of call.

Plane trips

Most of the airlines in the U.S. will allow the rechargeable concentrators. A web site sponsored by the Airline Oxygen Council of America, (www.airlineoxygencouncil.org and in the Take Action section) lists the airlines and whether or not they allow the new POCs.

If you will need oxygen on board you will need to arrange for it ahead of time. Airlines will not allow you to carry on your own oxygen tanks and there will most likely be a charge for using their oxygen. Most airlines also require a traveling companion. You need a note from your doctor stating how many liters per minute of oxygen you will need in flight so the airlines can calculate how much oxygen you will use.

The airlines will not supply oxygen during your wait in the airports so arrange for a nonstop flight if possible. You can check your concentrator as baggage or oxygen supplier can help you arrange for oxygen tanks and a rental concentrator at your destination.

Traveling Outside of the U.S.

International travel is not out of the question, but will take more planning. Most of the non-U.S. based airlines do not allow the new concentrators and some do not provide oxygen. It is probably best to work with a travel agent and don’t forget to take a traveling companion.

Checklist

In summary, you can still do some traveling even if you need to take oxygen, it will just require some extra planning.

  1. Discuss your travel plans with your doctor. Tell him where you want to go, what you plan to do and how long you plan to stay. Ask him/her if he or she sees any potential problems with your plans. Have your doctor write a letter giving you permission to travel and have them include your oxygen prescription.
  2. Check with a travel agent or talk directly to the airlines, train lines, cruise lines or bus line you will be taking to see what restrictions and/or requirements they have for traveling with oxygen.
  3. As soon as possible contact your oxygen supplier to discuss how your oxygen needs would best be met.
  4. Visit your doctor before leaving for a checkup and any prescriptions you might need to take.

Have fun!

Posted: November 2004
Reviewed: July 8, 2007

© 2014 American Association for Respiratory Care