Ah, the joys of flying. The cramped seats, the dry air, and the inevitable screaming child sitting behind you. But for some lucky individuals with chronic lung disease, flying also comes with the added excitement of potentially not getting enough oxygen. Fun, right?
Step One: Determine if you can safely fly
Before you embark on your airborne adventure, it’s important to make sure you won’t keel over from lack of oxygen. Consult your healthcare provider to confirm that flying won’t turn you into a gasping, wheezing mess. They can also let you know if you need to increase your oxygen flow during the flight.
If you want to take the extra cautious route, you can even subject yourself to a High-Altitude Simulations Test (HAST). This contraption simulates the oxygen levels at 8,000 feet, which just so happens to be the same level you’ll experience on a commercial airplane. You’ll get a prescription for oxygen at rest and an additional prescription for when you’re frantically weaving through the aisles to make it to the bathroom in time.
Step Two: Abide by the airline’s rules or suffer the consequences
Believe it or not, airlines actually have rules about flying with oxygen. And if you fail to follow these rules, they can make your life even more miserable than it already is. They can refuse to let you board, make an emergency landing, and even have you arrested. So, it’s in your best interest to do your research and find out what the airline expects of you.
Each airline has its own regulations, so the easiest way to find out what you need to do is to Google “[airline name] flying medical oxygen.” You’ll likely come across a tedious form that needs to be filled out by you and your healthcare provider. Oh joy. Some airlines even require a fancier form called a Medical Information Form (MEDIF). And don’t even think about using a MEDIF from another airline – they probably won’t accept it because, well, who knows why.
If you’re a frequent flyer (bless your brave soul), it’s a good idea to print out and complete forms for the airlines you usually fly with. Get your pulmonary doctor to sign them and keep them on file. Better safe than sorry, right?
Don’t forget to call the special services office at the airline after you’ve booked your flight. They need to know that you’re a special case so they can properly identify you on the manifest. And if you want to avoid any potential awkwardness, try to snag a window seat. That way, the flight attendants won’t have a panic attack about your oxygen tubing strangling innocent passengers.
Step Three: Portable Oxygen Concentrators: The Not-So-Glamorous Secret to Survival
Thank goodness for portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) or else we’d all be doomed. These nifty devices are the only acceptable source of oxygen while flying. So, if you’re planning on staying conscious throughout your flight, you better get yourself a POC.
But don’t be fooled by the word “portable.” These things can weigh anywhere from 3 to 20 pounds. So, they may be portable but they definitely won’t fit in your pocket. It’s important to choose a POC that provides enough oxygen for your needs. And don’t even get me started on the battery duration. Manufacturers love to brag about how long their batteries last, but that’s when they’re brand new and on the lowest setting. You might only get an hour of oxygen on the highest setting. So, make sure you have enough batteries to last you at least 150% of the flight time. Nobody wants to be gasping for air because they ran out of batteries.
And here’s a pro tip: always assume that the AC power outlet on the plane won’t work. That way, you won’t be disappointed when you can’t charge your POC and have to rely solely on your batteries. If you’re lucky enough to have a layover, choose flights with long ones. That way, you’ll have more time to charge your POC before your next flight. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even try sweet-talking the special services office into letting you carry fewer batteries. Stranger things have happened.
Step Four: The Early Bird Gets the Oxygen
When you’re flying with medical oxygen, it’s best to arrive at the airport early. Trust me, you’ll need all the extra time you can get. Since you won’t be able to check-in online, you’ll have to deal with the joys of waiting in line and checking in at the counter. Be sure to bring all your documentation with you, including that precious doctor-signed airline medical form.
To make your journey a little bit more bearable, I highly recommend asking for a wheelchair assist if you haven’t already. Use that special assistance to your advantage and breeze through the TSA checkpoint with ease. Well, as much ease as you can muster while being frisked and having your equipment examined.
Once you’re past security and at the gate, it’s time to find an outlet and plug in your POC. If there are no public outlets, get creative and ask the check-in desk if they’ll let you use theirs. Proximity is key at this point, so try to sit near the check-in desk and introduce yourself to the crew. You might even score an extra seat for your equipment if the flight isn’t full. Early boarding is your best friend, so take advantage of it and get all set up before everyone else starts crowding the aisles.
Step 5: Time to Fly
Now that you’re on the plane and settled in, it’s time to check your oxygen levels and make any necessary adjustments. Don’t be afraid to tinker with your settings – you want to make sure you’re getting enough oxygen to survive the journey. And remember, just because you’re sitting comfortably doesn’t mean you won’t need a higher setting when nature calls. So don’t even think about taking off your oxygen during your daring adventure down the aisle. Trust me, you’ll need all the oxygen you can get.
Five Steps for Successful Flying with Oxygen