If your relative needs medical oxygen, it’s crucial that you plan ahead for plane travel. From oxygen requirements to battery power, you need to be sure they have enough to cover the whole trip. (You don’t want to run out midair!) You’ll need to cover not only the flight, but layovers and inevitable delays.
First, work with your loved one’s health care provider to get medical clearance to travel. The natural oxygen available in an airplane is equivalent to that at 8,000 feet above sea level. Can your relative tolerate this “high altitude” environment? Is it safe? What do they need to do differently to compensate?
Once you receive the medical go ahead:
- Determine how much battery power will be needed. Most airlines require that you have enough battery power for 150 percent of the anticipated length of the flight. The length of the trip and the flow of the oxygen affect how long the batteries will last. For added measure, also find out if your loved one can safely unhook from the oxygen to go through security.
- Make reservations carefully. Contact the airline directly to discuss arrangements for oxygen. Only portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) are allowed. But which ones varies by the company. Consult the airline’s website to determine if the manufacturer’s brand and model are accepted. Confirm when you speak in person. If there is no match for your relative’s equipment, ask what the airline offers in terms of an oxygen service and what it costs. Also, if it is not a nonstop flight, consider longer layovers. This way the batteries can be charged at the airport.
- Special requests. Strive for a window seat so the tubing does not pose a danger for others in your row or people walking in the aisle. Bring the doctor’s order for the oxygen. (Ask if the airline has a special form to be filled out by the doctor. Many of them do.) Consider reserving wheelchair assistance. It makes the TSA process much easier.
- Gather oxygen and battery packs days ahead. You want to be sure you have everything on hand well before departure day. The airline may not let your relative on board if they don’t have all the supplies that are needed. Also pack a three-prong adapter and a spare power cord, just in case.
At the airport
- Get there early as the entire process will be more complicated with the oxygen.
- Check in at the counter. Bring the doctor’s prescription, the oxygen, all necessary battery power, and any signed form the airline requires from the doctor.
- Get wheelchair assistance to go through security and to take your loved one to the gate.
- If your relative can walk through the detector at security without oxygen, consider unhooking and sending the oxygen container separately through the x-ray on its own. Otherwise, a more thorough inspection will be required.
- Use every opportunity to charge up the batteries whenever you are in the airport. Although the plane theoretically has plugs on board, they don’t always work.
- Board when the crew calls for those who need extra time getting settled. This early boarding is designed exactly for your relative’s situation.