Traveling With Medical Oxygen Does Not Have To Be A Hassle
By Dr. Cathleen V. Carr, JD PhD
If you like to travel but have a medical condition that requires you use an oxygen tank, it’s important that your manage the transporting of your tank appropriately so as to avoid obstacles to your plans. Here are some good rules and regulations to become familiar with prior to traveling with oxygen.
As a travel oxygen user it is entirely your responsibility to make yourself aware of your airlines requirements regarding use of portable oxygen concentrators on-board the aircraft. Keep in mind that simply because a specific portable oxygen concentrator has been approved by the FAA doesn’t mean each airline has approved that particular travel oxygen concentrator for use on their aircraft.
Please, do not wait until the last minute to notify the airline you will be traveling with oxygen. All the airlines require some advanced notice. All have their own specific requirements that must be met. Some even require a review of your prescription prior to travel. But with proper planning, traveling with oxygen need not be a daunting experience.
There are different rules for trains, planes and other modes of travel, so review with your specific carrier before bring your oxygen tank on-board.
Most common carriers require advance notice, so do not appear at the counter to check- in unless you have contacted them earlier about your tank. It’s also important that you have a tank that is approved safe for travel.
Some airlines may require that the prescription obtained from your physician be printed on his/her official letterhead. Be sure to let your physician know that you need the prescription for purpose of common carrier travel. It should declare
- Your ability to see/hear alarms and respond appropriately
- When oxygen use is necessary (all or portion of the trip)
- Maximum flow rate
- This prescription needs to be kept with you at all times during your flight. A new prescription will not be necessary each time you fly, but the prescription should be available during every flight.
Some airlines require only 48 hours advance notice while others require seven days. The best rule of thumb is make arrangements as far in advance as possible. All airlines charge for oxygen, but the charges vary. Some charge per canister, but most charge per for each leg of the flight. The charges generally range between $50.00 and $150.00 per leg. This means if you have to change planes on your trip you will be charged twice. Therefore, if possible it is better to take a direct flight or even one with an extra stop, but no plane change. Airlines don’t provide oxygen for in terminal use even during layovers. You are responsible for making these arrangements separately. (Note: Some first aid stations in airports have oxygen available.)
The FAA has approved 5 travel oxygen concentrators for use in flight. Again, check with your airline to confirm the travel oxygen concentrator you are planning to use has been approved by the airline for use on-board their aircraft. The 6 travel oxygen concentrators the FAA has approved are Inogen One, Respironics EverGo, Sequal Eclipse, Invacare XPO2 and the Airsep Lifestyle & Freestyle. Compressed gas and liquid oxygen are not permitted on-board or as checked baggage. Some airlines may allow you to check empty cylinders or liquid units.
5 Steps To Successfully Traveling With Medical Oxygen
Contact your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to be traveling with your medical condition, and if the oxygen tank that you use is also safe for travel. You will not be able to bring your own oxygen on-board with you, so you will have to use oxygen provided by the airlines for the duration of the flight.
Call the airline that you plan to travel in advance of your flight. Ask to speak with special services or the medical department of the carrier in order to make arrangements for to be able bring your tank on board.
Make sure that you confirm that you meet the requirements of the carrier. Confirm with them that they can provide the flow of air you need and whether or not they will provide you with a nasal cannula or mask .
Confirm all of your arrangements by phone at least 48 hours before your flight boards and make sure to go over all of the rules and regulations that the airlines give you. Typically, the airlines will direct you to a website with rules for those traveling with medical oxygen or they will send you a pamphlet.
These same steps apply if you are traveling by train or cruise ship.
If cruising, make sure to contact the company PRIOR TO purchasing tickets, since many cruise lines will not allow oxygen tanks on board. If you are interested in taking a cruise, travel oxygen concentrators are a perfect solution. All of the major cruise lines allow travel oxygen concentrators as an option for oxygen supply. You can save hundreds of dollars off of your travel costs and eliminate the hassle of arranging travel oxygen with the travel oxygen concentrators.
Train Travel with Oxygen – Amtrak
If traveling by train, Amtrak for example, contact the company at least 12 hours in advance to let them know that you’ll be bringing the oxygen on-board.
Portable oxygen containers must meet the following requirements:
- Power Source: Oxygen equipment cannot rely solely on train-provided electrical power. Any device brought on a train must be able to operate a minimum of four hours without available onboard electrical power.
- UL or FM Listed: Oxygen equipment must be Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM) listed.
- Weight Limits: Each tank and its associated equipment may weigh no more than 50 lbs (22.7 kgs) per unit.
- Configuration: We permit only one of the following:
- A two-tank system (maximum of 50 lbs [22.7 kgs] per tank), or
- A six-tank system (maximum of 20 lbs [9 kgs] per tank), but only if the tanks can be separated and handled individually
Bus Travel with Oxygen – Greyhound
Portable oxygen and respirators may accompany you on Greyhound. You must give Greyhound 48 hours prior notice if you are traveling with oxygen. A maximum of four (4) canisters may travel with the customer – two (2) aboard the bus and two (2) in the baggage compartment. The maximum dimension for each container may not exceed 4.5 inches in diameter and 26 inches in length. Customers are responsible for ensuring that they have enough oxygen to complete their travel and are responsible for making arrangements for refills while en route. Oxygen canisters to be stored in the baggage compartment must be in protective cases with safety caps on the valves.
The USAToday article ends with a great chart of airline policies on medical oxygen that outlines which airlines allow which devices and the extra costs associated with some of the services. Respiratory Therapists (RTs) may find the chart helpful in informing their oxygen patients who would like to fly about airline policies and procedures on medical oxygen.