When my mom was diagnosed with COPD and had to go on oxygen, she thought her traveling days were over, especially traveling by airplane. And to some extent, that seemed like a fair assessment… at least at first.
But, with the right oxygen supplier and due to some recent legal changes regarding air travel, it can still be possible to travel with oxygen without raising stress levels beyond recovery.
The Challenges of Traveling When You Have COPD
When a person has COPD, the mere thought of traveling can be exhausting. The effort involved, not to mention the stress of being in new and unfamilar situations, can be obstacles they don’t want to even think about, much less actually deal with. As a caregiver, you can help to reassure them and smooth the way.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to plan for:
- Portable oxygen
- Need for frequent rest periods
- Transporting all of the medical supplies & equipment
- Fear of the unknown & unexpected
The last obstacle, while somewhat vague, can be the easiest to deal with, provided you are willing to put in the planning and effort to set everything up and anticipate the roadblocks along the way. Of course, if you are actually traveling with your loved one, that will make everything much simpler
When someone has COPD, they are likely on a number of different medicines and may also be on nebulizer treatments. In addition, due to their general debility, they may require assistive devices to walk, etc. When they travel, all of these things must be brought along. They’ll need adequate medicine to last throughout their time away, as well as a way to carry the equipment and supplies they’ll need.
If you’ve notice how tired your loved one gets just from putting on clothes or eating a meal, then you won’t be surprised about how utterly exhausting traveling can be. The anxiety about getting around alone can be tiring and then there is the actual effort involved in getting up and down, in and out and having to interact with strangers. So, be sure to allow for adequate rest during the trip or at least once they reach their destination.
Finally, you’ll need to find a way for your loved one to get oxygen while they are enroute to their destination (portable oxygen) and a supply they can use once they get there (if they’re staying).
Tips for Traveling by Land with OxygenTraveling by land is definitely the easiest way to go with oxygen.** Traveling by car** gives you the most flexibility. All you need is to do is carry your own portable oxygen equipment and to arrange for refills along the way or once you reach where you’re going. If you store a tank in the car, just be sure it’s not in the trunk (where it can get too hot) and that you keep a window open for venting.
We took my mom to see a spring waterfall a few weeks ago. We were concerned that her portable tank wouldn’t last for the whole round trip, so her oxygen company let us borrow a small reservoir that we used to refill the portable a couple of times during the trip. Worked great!
Some bus lines allow people with portable oxygen to ride their buses. Check with the bus line you want to use to see what their regulations are. Most bus lines these days are nonsmoking, but if they’re not, then avoid them for safety reasons.
If you want to travel by train, there are no set policies for traveling with oxygen. Be sure to talk with the railroad in advance of your trip to notify them of your need and to check their rules about the equipment you can bring aboard.
You must sit in the no smoking section. Amtrak’s policy states that you will need to bring enough oxygen for the trip plus an extra 20%. Your equipment should also not depend solely on the train’s provided electrical power.
Tips for Traveling by Sea with Oxygen
You might have thought your loved one would never be able to cruise again now that he or she is on oxygen. This may not be true, however. Some cruise lines may provide or allow supplemental oxygen. You’ll need to check with the one you want to use to see what their policies are. You might be able to get refills at your ports of call if you plan in advance.
Also, there are some cruise lines, such as MedicalTravel.org and Cruise Holidays, which organize cruises especially for people with lung disease. You can also check with your local chapter of the American Lung Association; they sometimes plan cruises for people with COPD and other respiratory diseases too.
Tips for Traveling by Air with Oxygen
Air travel definitely presents the most challenges for traveling with oxygen. But new regulations based on the Americans with Disabilities Act were written into law in the past year that make it much easier for people on oxygen to travel by plane.
You’ll need to check with the airline you want to travel on, though, to see what their specific rules and regulations are. The law says that airlines have to let you bring your own oxygen on board now, but you still have to work with them. Your oxygen supplier should be able to help you too.
My mom traveled a few months ago by plane, and things went great. Her oxygen supplier is a company called Norco and they provided a battery operated concentrator that could be plugged in and recharged during layovers or while waiting to board, if necessary. Most oxygen suppliers should be able to set something similar up for your loved one.
When They Get Where They’re Going
If your loved one will be staying away from home overnight or longer, they’ll need to either bring a concentrator with them or arrange for oxygen to be delivered to wherever they’ll be staying. It takes a bit of work to arrange all this, but the benefits can be tremendous!
Being able to see loved ones again, to experience new things and just to get out of the house can go a long way towards making your loved one feel happier and less restricted. And, if they’re going somewhere else to stay with family or friends, it can give you a much needed break too. So, keep an open mind about the possibilities of traveling with oxygen, won’t you?
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.