What I Have Learned While Traveling With Oxygen
Last updated: June 2021
My first airline trip with oxygen was to the 2012 Alpha-1 National Conference. It was also my first flight in over 25 years. I loved to fly but I hadn’t done it in so long and being on oxygen made me anxious. I got some advice from other Alpha friends which made me feel a little more at ease. Here are some things that I found helpful while flying.
Liquid oxygen and portable tanks
You cannot fly with liquid oxygen or portable tanks. If you don't own a POC (portable oxygen concentrator) you will have to buy or rent one. Make sure that it is FDA approved for flying. Some airlines will help you get in touch with providers that will rent them out. If you have an oxygen provider they might let you rent one or use it while you fly.
You will need fully charged batteries and usually no less than 150% of the listed flight time worth of batteries. All airlines are different so be sure to check with your airline provider. Also, be sure to bring your regular and car POC chargers with you on the flight and not packed away in your suitcase. You can use them to charge at layovers and nowadays some planes have an outlet that you can use.
When I first started flying with oxygen you had to have a doctor's note with a prescription for pre-flight check-in but I believe they have changed that now. I would be sure to check with your airline.
Be sure to pre-register at least 48 hours before your flight. Again, each airline is different. I also tell them that I would like wheelchair assistance as usually there isn’t enough time to walk to your gate while transferring planes. I know I need to save my energy and it is hard for me to walk with my carry-on, purse, and POC. It would also take me forever to get to the gate if I walked because I'd have to stop and rest every couple of minutes. I like that the attendants know where they are going and can get me where I need to be. I make sure I always have extra money on hand for tips.
Check-in and pre-flight
Make sure you give yourself at least 2 hours for check-in at the airport and be ready for anything. Each airport is different and has different rules on how you and your POC go through the screening line. I also sanitize everything on and around my seat, the vent and light switch above, and I wear a mask. I have done this for years, way before covid, to try and prevent colds, flu, etc.
Something that has changed in the last few years is that you have to have a window seat if you have a POC. The reason is so that in case of an emergency, you don't block any other passengers. I would suggest that when you call 48 hours in advance you remind them that you need a window seat. Sometimes they forget and that could make for unhappy seatmates later. I also suggest you ask if you can get a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. Sometimes they will accommodate if they can.
If you have a nationwide oxygen company as some do, you can call and tell them where you are staying and they will have your room concentrator or anything extra that you would need waiting for you. In case of emergency, make sure you have the local, 24-hour number for your oxygen company (in the area that you are staying in).
One last piece of advice is if you have a caregiver that can go with you it makes things 10 times easier. My son made many trips with me and helped things go so much smoother. It's possible to go without a caregiver because of the help of the airlines but so much easier with a caregiver's help.
New friends and places
I would have never been on any of these trips if it wasn't for becoming an Alpha-1 support group leader. Every year we have training on the last day of the conference. I have been very fortunate for all of the traveling that I have done over these past 10 years and seen many places that I could have never seen before. I love being a support group leader and the places I have seen and the friends that I have met because of it.
Do you have any other advice to add? I’d love to hear anything that can make traveling easier with oxygen.
Does your COPD make running errands more difficult?
Join the conversation