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Flying With Oxygen

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How to Win the Battle of Flying With Oxygen

  Don't let them tell you that flying with oxygen is easy. The people, who say that, do not require oxygen. Flying with oxygen can be accomplished but it requires a detailed plan similar to the plan for the invasion of Normandy. Air Systems has laid out a detailed plan that will enable you to fly with oxygen "reasonably" well.

D-Day Minus 6 Weeks

  Ask your travel agent to find the best way for you to fly direct or non-stop to your destination. Every time you change planes, the price of the flight increases by at least $50-75 us dollars. The fee is for a "set-up" charge in each aircraft. It may pay you to drive further to another airport if that allows you to stay on the same plane the entire trip. Build your trip around the availability of direct or non-stop flights.

Airplane oxygen equipment is likely to be different from your home oxygen system, and can differ from airplane to airplane even within the same airline. Make sure the airline can provide your prescribed oxygen liter flow. Generally you may ship empty oxygen tanks and other respiratory or medical equipment as baggage, but rules vary by airline and can unexpectantly change. Portable medical equipment such as suction machines, portable oxygen concentrator or compressor nebulizers may be allowed as long as they are not connected to a source of oxygen.

  Request a seat closest to the front restrooms. This will assist the airline to service your oxygen. And when you use the restrooms you must disconnect your oxygen cannula until you get back your seat. During your trip to and from the restroom your will be breathing "30,000-foot" oxygen.

  Ask a friend or relative to drive you to the airport to assist you and to carry your portable oxygen tanks back home once you board the aircraft. You cannot board aircraft with your portable oxygen, no exceptions. Remember your friends should also have the full 6 weeks notice also. Ask the airline about their requirements regarding your doctor's authorization to fly with oxygen. Ask them to send you confirmation of the necessary procedures to fly with oxygen.

Questions to Ask the Airline

  • What do you charge for supplying oxygen during the flight?
  • Do you provide oxygen masks and/or cannulas, or may I bring my own?
  • What medical equipment will be available on my flights?
  • What is the airline oxygen equipment liter-flow capability?
  • Can I ship empty oxygen tanks and other medical equipment as baggage? Is there an extra charge? What is your procedure to verify that the portable oxygen tanks are empty?
  • What procedure should I follow at the airport? Will you provide ground assistance at each leg of my trip? A shuttle or a wheelchair is a good idea. The service usually is free, and it can save you from the unexpected stress of a long walk.

D Day Minus 5 Weeks

  Contact your doctor and notify him or her that you are going to fly. You will probably need a letter from him that authorizes you to be flying with oxygen. Remind the doctor that plane cabins are pressurized to about 8,000 to 9,000 feet. Review the letter checking for errors, including, but not limited to, the spelling of your name.
  Also at this time contact your hotel. Inform them that you will arrange to have oxygen delivered prior to your arrival. They may have special requirements for the oxygen supplier, such as delivery times or entrance. Most hotels have been through this routine many times and have an established system for your oxygen set up.

D Day Minus 4 Weeks

  Many oxygen providers, including air systems, will handle all of your oxygen arrangements for you, including your oxygen supply when you arrive at the airport. The medical equipment company you choose will need you to mail or fax them the following information.

  • Departure date, airport, airline, flight number, departure time, arrival time, hotel name address, phone number.
  • Return date, airport, airline, flight number, departure time, arrival time.
  After your medical equipment provider has received your itinerary, give them a call and review it with them, clarifying all facets, such as:
  • Addresses of places you will be staying.
  • Medical equipment you have been using at home and will be using on the trip.
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers to all medical equipment providers you will be using.
  • Instructions for all medical equipment providers to furnish cannulas, connectors and tubing.
  All you need is one careless employee to undo everyone's excellent work. You must accept the responsibility of minimizing the problems by verifying all your arrangements at least twice before heading for the airport. Request that each medical equipment provider that will be involved in your trip send you confirmation that they received your itinerary and requirements, and that they either have the medical equipment and resources to comply or can substitute comparable medical equipment and services. Get the name of the people who will be responsible for fulfilling your equipment order.
  Don't make the mistake of thinking that the world is filled with competent people who will be as interested in your welfare as you are. Sadly, you will have to reconfirm all arrangements repeatedly. The airlines will tell you that once you are ticketed you don't have to reconfirm your return flight. Don't count on that being correct. Call and reconfirm both your seat assignment and your oxygen equipment arrangements. The oxygen equipment will be placed aboard just prior to your departure. Get confirmation that the airline has that requirement in its computer.

D Day Minus 3 Weeks

  Make sure you have an adequate supply of all your medications, including prescription drugs and inhalers. Carry two sets of medications, one packed into your luggage and the other in your carry-on. Make sure and have a copy of your oxygen prescription as well. Also it is a good idea to bring along an extra cannula, tubing and connectors.
  Okay now sit down, get comfortable and visualize exactly what will happen, "mentally make the trip"...You are picked up...driven to the airport...check in at the front desk...go through security...wait at the boarding to the hotel. Visualize how you are going to maintain a proper level of oxygen in your blood at each step. Imagine lengthy oxygen provider to meet you. This little exercise will help you to anticipate potential problems. Always think in terms of contingency plans.

D Day Minus 10 Days

  You have just finished an 11-day "breather," it's time to go back to work. D-Day stands for Departure Day and D-Day minus 10 will be one of the most important days of the trip. Today is the day that you become a "pest." Call everyone involved with your medical oxygen arrangements and make final confirmations. Do not ask them if they have everything arranged. A lazy clerk may answer, "yeah, sure. Have a nice day." Instead, ask questions that force them to check their records or computer. For example, "I'm calling to reconfirm my oxygen arrangements with your company. What do you show in your records?" Provide them only enough information to locate you in their files. Make them confirm dates, types of equipment, addresses, prices, and all other pertinent information.
  If you sense that you are not being given proper answers or service, do not hesitate to speak with a supervisor. If the supervisor does not give you satisfaction, ask to speak to his or her supervisor. Call their corporate headquarters if necessary. D-Day minus 10 is a good time to find out if you are dealing with competent people. D-Day or departure day is a bad time to find out that you are not. Virtually every provider of oxygen and medical equipment has an emergency number. Get those numbers and carry them with you.

D Day

  You have now done everything that can be done. Chances are good that things will go nicely. But, as they say in Pulmonary Rehab, "Don't hold your breath." If things go wrong because we are all mortal humans, don't panic. You are still in control. If you face special problems, read on.

Special Problems

  • You will need an employee of the airline to sign for you at the gate and escort you through security with your portable oxygen.
  • You must stop at the ticket counter to reconfirm your oxygen supplies and be escorted through the security gate by an airline employee. Remember, wheelchairs are available, don't hesitate to ask for assistance.
  • Eat and drink as little as possible before the flight. Using the restroom aboard an airplane is awkward, even for healthy people. For oxygen dependent patients who are trying to use the restroom without their oxygen, the process can be grueling. Domestic flights are almost always less than six hours in duration. It is highly doubtful that going six to seven hours without liquids will cause dehydration, but check this with your doctor. You may have specific health problems that would preclude this advice.
  • No Airline provides oxygen services at the airport; they only supply oxygen while you are sitting in your seat on the airplane. If layovers are unavoidable try these measures.
    1. Arrange for an oxygen provider to meet the flight and supply oxygen while you wait to board the next plane.
    2. Locate the first aid station by the airport phone and request oxygen assistance or help in locating a temporary supply of oxygen.
  • If you should miss a connection or if your flight is delayed see suggestions 1 and 2 above. If these measures fail and you are in a situation over which you have no control, call the airport fire department. They are very sympathetic to people who are innocent victims of events, but may not be very sympathetic toward people who fail to plan ahead.
  • Remember to request to be boarded first, you are handicapped and there are other good reasons to get aboard as soon as you can:
    1. You need to get hooked up to your oxygen supply as soon as possible.
    2. You must test your oxygen equipment and verify that oxygen is flowing.
    3. You must ask the flight attendant to verify your oxygen liter flow. This setting is critical do not accept anything less than verification. If your oxygen flow is set incorrectly, you could suffer serious medical consequences.

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