COPD: Traveling with Oxygen

Health Professional

Last month we talked about travel with COPD and looked at some suggestions for an easy-breathing getaway. But what if you use oxygen?

No doubt about it, life can be more complicated if you require supplemental oxygen (and we say supplemental because we all need oxygen), but that doesn't mean you have to be stuck at home. I'm here to tell you, traveling with oxygen is possible, if you plan ahead.

Start by making a call to your local oxygen provider, tell them where you're going and ask them what arrangements they can make for you. Check with your pulmonary rehab staff and classmates about what's worked for them and what hasn't. If you're a member of an online pulmonary support group (and I hope you are) post a question asking for oxygen travel tips. Your peers who have traveled with oxygen are a wealth of information and you can learn from their successes - and their mistakes.

Here are some basics for traveling with oxygen. This is by no means a complete list, but it's a start.

Unless you're traveling by car, you must call ahead of time (at least a month is best) to the airline, the cruise line, the rail travel provider or bus company telling them you'll be using your oxygen. Ask them if they require paperwork such as a doctor's prescription and / or additional note.

Travel by Air - Ask your oxygen provider about renting a portable oxygen concentrator. If they don't have information about it, ask your respiratory therapy professional at pulmonary rehab, local Better Breathers' Club or online breathing support group. If you'll be taking a personal oxygen concentrator aboard an airplane, you will need to complete specific paperwork ahead of time. Ask your oxygen company as well as the airline what forms you'll need. Your doctor is busy, so allow enough time to have him or her complete and sign the paperwork.Check out my previous sharepost, Great News for Travelers with Portable Oxygen!, as well as the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) website for up-to-date regulations on traveling with a special medical condition and equipment.

Car - Buckle your oxygen container securely in the seatbelt. If your oxygen is in a pressurized tank make sure the tank doesn't roll around inside your car or trunk. If you use liquid oxygen make sure the canister stays upright and doesn't tip over on its side (if it tips over, the liquid oxygen will evaporate).

Ship - You can go enjoy a cruise, even if you use supplemental oxygen. There are many cruise lines, but one option is to take a cruise especially for pulmonary patients. When you book a pulmonary cruise of this type a Respiratory Therapist will call you to discuss your oxygen and equipment needs. All oxygen arrangements will be made for you, including your flight and your oxygen needs during that flight. Knowledgeable staff members will meet you at your gate in the port city with oxygen and transfer you to the hotel or ship. Respiratory Therapists go along on the cruise so you can be assured that you (and your lungs) are in good hands.

Traveling with oxygen is possible, if you have the right information and you plan ahead. Have a great summer, be safe, and breathe well!

Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.