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Travelling by airplane with medical oxygen

If you need to use medical (supplemental) oxygen and would like to travel by airplane, you need to make special plans ahead of time. If you plan things in advance, youíll have enough oxygen to stay safe and healthy.

Some people with COPD use medical oxygen every day. Other people only need medical oxygen at certain times, like when they travel by plane. This is because the air in planes has less oxygen in it than normal air.

If you need medical oxygen for air travel, hereís what you need to do:
1. Review our general advice for travelling with COPD.
2. Speak with your doctor and respiratory therapist.
  • Tell them about your travel plans.
  • Explain where you are going and how long the flights will be.
  • Ask if you are well enough for the journey.
  • Ask what level of oxygen is right for you as you fly. You will probably need to increase your oxygen flow while you fly. Ask the doctor or respiratory therapist for a written prescription with your required oxygen flow.
  • Ask the doctor to fill out a "Fitness for travel" form or physician statement, if your airline requires one.

3. Find out what your options are for getting medical oxygen on flights to your particular destination with your particular airline.

Different airlines have different rules about oxygen. The rules can differ depending on where you are flying. In general, there are three possible ways to get medical oxygen while you fly:

A) The airline lets you bring your own oxygen tank with gaseous oxygen. You need to arrange for your own oxygen supply and make sure you have enough oxygen for the entire trip. You need to use a make and model of oxygen tank approved by the airline.

B) The airline lets you rent oxygen equipment from them, through one of their suppliers. The third-party supplier rents the tank(s) to you.

C) The airline lets you carry a portable oxygen concentrator (POC), a machine that takes oxygen from the surrounding air, concentrates it, and delivers it to you.

Portable oxygen concentrators (also called portable concentrators or POCs) are similar to home oxygen concentrators, but they're smaller and easy to carry. Portable oxygen concentrators supply you with a higher amount of oxygen than whatís found in the air around you. With a POC, you donít actually carry around a tank of oxygen. Instead, the POC draws oxygen from the air around you, concentrates it (builds it up), then sends you the oxygen-enriched air.

If your airline allows POCs, you are responsible for bringing your own. You can buy a portable oxygen concentrator or rent one from an oxygen or medical supply company. The airline does not charge you for bringing the portable oxygen concentrator, but it will ask you to follow certain rules and bring a signed note from your doctor saying you are fit and able to use the POC. WestJet and Air Canada allow portable oxygen concentrators on domestic flights and international fights - see below for details. Many U.S. airlines also allow you to carry portable oxygen concentrators.

4. Make arrangements with your airline

Before you book any flights, learn about the rules for oxygen on that particular flight on that particular airline. Allow at least a few days to talk with the airline and let them know that you require oxygen on a particular flight. Donít book your flight until you have arranged your oxygen supply (see step 5, below).

When you talk with the airline about medical oxygen, tell them your planned destination and ask:

  • What are your rules about using medical oxygen? Can you show me a written policy?
  • Can I bring my own oxygen tank? If so, what are the rules?
  • Do you supply medical oxygen? If so, what is the cost?
  • Do you allow me to carry a portable oxygen concentrator (POC)? If so, what are the rules? What sizes and brands are allowed?
  • Can I bring oxygen tanks? How many tanks can I bring?
  • Do I need a physician's (doctorís) statement proving my medical need for this device?
  • Will you provide emergency oxygen if I need it?
  • How much advance notice do I need to give you that I require oxygen?
  • What's your company policy on batteries in carry-on luggage?
  • Can I bring other medical devices, like a humidifier?
  • What is the security procedure for medical oxygen?
  • What is the airport procedure for medical oxygen?
5. Arrange your oxygen supply.

How you arrange your oxygen supply depends on what device and service youíll be using:

A) If you are supplying your own oxygen

Make sure your oxygen tank(s) is approved by your airline. Ask your oxygen supply company to look at your oxygen prescription and your travel plans and calculate how much oxygen you will need.

When figuring out how much oxygen you will need, your oxygen supplier will have to consider:

  • The oxygen rate youíre prescribed (you may use a higher rate when youíre in the air)
  • The time it will take to get through airport security areas
  • Time in the air
  • Time on the runways, taxiing
  • Time in airports between flights, if you have a stopover
  • Possible flight delays

Ask your oxygen supplier to make sure you have an oxygen supply waiting for you once you reach your destination. If your supplier doesnít supply oxygen at your destination, they may be able to tell you about a company that does.

Make sure you bring:

  • Your nasal cannula
  • Your written prescription for oxygen
  • A physicianís statement, if your airline requires it
  • Contact information for the oxygen supply company in your hometown and in the place you are visiting.

B) If you are using the airline-supplied oxygen service

If you plan to use the airlineís oxygen supplier, talk with this company. The airline will give you their contact information.

  • Tell them how much oxygen you need (your doctor or respiratory therapist has told you).
  • Make sure they will supply oxygen from the moment you arrive at the airport until you get to your destination Ė this must include time to go through security checks, time in the air, stopover time, plus any possible delays.
  • If they do not supply oxygen from the time you arrive in your departure airport until the time you clear customs in your destination, you must arrange for a separate oxygen supply for use in your departure airport, any stopover airports, and your arrival airport.
  • Make sure you know how to use the oxygen tank they will supply.
  • Bring your written oxygen prescription and a physician statement, if required.
  • Ask if you need to bring nasal cannula.

C) If you are using a portable oxygen concentrator (POC)

Most airlines let you use a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) for most flights. Your oxygen provider may be able to rent or sell you a POC approved for air travel. If not, you can rent or buy a POC on your own. Make sure the brand of POC you buy or rent is approved by your airline.

Batteries for your portable oxygen concentrator

Once you know which device youíre going to use and how long your trip should last, you need to think about batteries.

  • You will need enough battery power to cover the time from before your flight until you get to your destination. Generally you need to arrive at the airport 1 - 2 hours ahead of your flight time.
  • At gate check-in you must have battery power for at least 50% longer than your scheduled flying time. (For example Ė if your flying time is 3 hours, you will need 4.5 hours of battery power).
  • Different batteries stay charged for different lengths of time. Batteries may last for 2, 3 or more hours, depending on your oxygen flow and which model you use. Count how long your entire journey will take, and carry enough extra batteries.
  • Batteries weigh about 3 pounds each.
  • Store extra batteries in your carry-on luggage. To prevent short-circuiting, keep spare batteries in the original packaging. If you donít have the original packaging, place tape across the battery's contacts to isolate the terminals. Make sure batteries donít touch one another and donít touch anything metal, like coins, keys or jewellery. Place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package.
  • Choosing a non-stop (direct) flight will mean you need less battery time.
  • If your batteries are rechargeable, make sure you bring the charger with you. If you are travelling abroad, you may need a special adapter so your recharger will fit into the electrical socket.
  • Review the userís manual for the specific POC you will be using to figure out its exact battery capacity based on your oxygen flow rate (litres per minute or LPM).
Rules about medical oxygen use for two major Canadian airlines

The Lung Association does not endorse any products or services, including airlines. We provide these details about airline oxygen rules for your information only. The details were accurate at the time we wrote this. But airlines may change their rules or fees without our knowledge. Please check with your airline to confirm their rules about medical oxygen before you travel.

Air Canada rules about medical oxygen

Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs): Air Canada allows POCs on all flights. This page explains Air Canadaís rules about POCs, and lists the models that they allow.

To rent oxygen equipment or to use a POC, you need to make arrangements with Air Canada at least 48 hours in advance. Your doctor must complete a medical form and fax it to Air Canada. This page explains how to get medical approval for travel on Air Canada, and links to the form for your doctor to fill out. For more information and updates on Air Canada rules about medical oxygen, call 1-888-247-2262.

WestJet rules about medical oxygen

Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs): WestJet allows POCs on all flights. You must use a model of POC thatís on their list of approved models, and follow other rules. You must also have a signed physician statement.

Bringing your own oxygen tanks: WestJet allows passengers to bring their own oxygen aboard flights in Canada (domestic flights only), if they meet certain conditions. WestJet will permit up to two guests with up to two oxygen cylinders each for personal use onboard the aircraft. This page explains the rules about bringing your own oxygen tank about a domestic (within Canada) WestJet flights.

For more information on travelling with oxygen on WestJet, call 1-888-937-8538 or visit WestJetís web page on travelling with special medical needs.

Travel to the USA and other countries

If you plan to travel outside of Canada, talk to your local oxygen provider and ask for help to plan oxygen for your entire trip. You may also want to read these web pages:

Advice for a safe and comfortable flight
  • The air on planes is much drier than usual, which may make it harder to breathe. To avoid dehydration, donít drink caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola) or alcoholic drinks (wine, beer). Instead, drink lots of water.
  • Be prepared for perfume, pet dander, and other possible triggers in the air inside the plane. Airplane air is recirculated, so these triggers can be especially strong in a plane. Bring your quick-relief medicine with you in case something in the plane triggers your symptoms. More about pets in airplane cabins and allergic reactions
  • Take regular breaks to walk and stretch your legs. Try moving around once an hour.

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