Traveling by Plane
Oxygen needs on the plane: There are some special issues that COPD patients need to know when flying. Airplane cabins are pressurized for high altitudes. This means there is less oxygen in the air of the plane during a flight. This is not usually a problem for people with healthy lungs. But it can cause people with COPD to be at risk of having low oxygen levels in their blood. This is called hypoxemia (high-poc-see-me-ah).
If you need oxygen during exercise or sleep, you may also need it for air travel. Talk with your doctor well before your trip. Your doctor will decide if you need to plan to have oxygen on the plane. You will need to give yourself enough time to have oxygen supplied, if you need it.
If your doctor decides you do need to have oxygen on the plane you may take your own. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) now allows passengers to bring their own (or rented) portable oxygen concentrators on board a plane. The equipment must be one of their approved units. You must bring enough batteries for the equipment, for the entire flight. A flight across country could take between 3 and 6 large batteries. You should also bring extra tubing, cannulas, T -connectors, a cylinder wrench and electric adaptors. You will be prepared for any situation. Keep all of these items in your carry -on bag.
Before the FAA began allowing passengers to bring their own oxygen onto planes, airlines provided the oxygen for a fee. If you prefer to use the airline's oxygen, tell them before you purchase your ticket. You will probably be directed to the airline's medical desk or officer. You will need to provide your doctor's name and number. The medical officer will talk directly with your doctor. Your doctor may need to send in a special form with information about your needs. Most airlines need two weeks advance notice to provide oxygen. (Some airlines can make these plans in 48 hours). It is best to plan well in advance. The cost of oxygen from an airline can range from 475 to $150.
If you choose to purchase oxygen from the airlines, it is only for use in the plane. Airlines will not supply you with oxygen for use between flights. They will not provide you with oxygen for going to baggage claim areas. If you need oxygen in the airport, you will need to make arrangements with a supplier for each part of your trip.
CAUTION: Many people think that the emergency oxygen masks on a plane can be used by people who need oxygen during the flight. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Only 15 to 20
minutes of oxygen is provided through these masks. This oxygen is ONLY for emergency use if the plane loses cabin pressure.
Request a wheelchair: Consider asking for a wheelchair when you make your plane reservations. It can be a long walk to your gate. You might also have a long wait at the security check -in. A wheelchair will give you easy movement through the airport.
In the chair you will get a quick security check. A wheelchair is most helpful if you have a connecting flight. You should request a wheelchair with an attendant. They will assist you to your next flight. Riding instead of walking will save your energy. It will reduce your stress. Make these plans ahead of time. The airlines may provide you with a wheelchair and attendant. Or the airlines may have a motorized cart waiting for you at your gate.
If possible, have a travel partner: This person should know about your needs. They should be prepared to assist you. Your travel partner should understand the oxygen system you use. They should be able to change cylinders, open the valve, attach a regulator or conserver and adjust the flow.
Reduce the risk of infections: The air in a plane is fairly dry. This can put you at an increased risk of getting an upper respiratory infection. Also, the close seating in a plane can put you at risk for getting an infection. Take these steps to reduce the risk of infection:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid coffee, tea and alcohol.
- Ask to be reseated if you are near someone coughing or sneezing.
- Consider wearing a mask. This will act as a barrier against airborn droplets.
- Have a filled prescription for antibiotics with you. Have this as a back-up plan. Having this with you will allow you to quickly treat any infection. This may keep you from getting much sicker.