For those with diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or chronic bronchitis, supplemental medical oxygen is a necessity. If you have ever tried to travel with supplemental oxygen, you know how difficult this can be. Being prepared, and knowing how to travel safely with oxygen and where to obtain oxygen at your final destination is vital.
Always check with your doctor and your oxygen company before traveling. Your oxygen supplier can provide you with safe and accurate information about traveling with supplemental oxygen. It’s sometimes difficult to find a company to refill oxygen cylinders while on the road, so take along enough cylinders for your entire trip.
Your oxygen company should be able to provide you with safe and accurate information about traveling with supplemental oxygen
If you plan to be away from home longer than your portable oxygen unit will allow, your oxygen company can arrange for oxygen to be delivered to your destination, and can even help you with finding a place to refill your oxygen while you are on the road.
If using liquid oxygen, it’s is possible to obtain a liquid base unit which straps into the backseat of the car from which portable liquid units can be filled. If using oxygen cylinders, it’s hard to find companies to refill them, so you may need to take enough cylinders for your entire trip.
If your oxygen company is unable to provide oxygen to be delivered at your final destination, check with your insurance company to get a list of other oxygen companies that may be able to assist you. You may have to pay out of pocket, especially for travel overseas.
Safety is a very important issue when traveling by car, as an oxygen tank can become a dangerous projectile in an accident. It is crucial to secure the unit. Your oxygen company can provide you with information about safe ways to store and protect your particular oxygen unit in a vehicle.
According to Transtracheal Systems, a major manufacturer of medical devices and respiratory therapy products, liquid oxygen — which is a fluid at very cold temperatures and transforms into a gas for delivery — must be stored upright to prevent a rapid release of oxygen.
Portable Oxygen Concentrators
Portable oxygen concentrators — which form oxygen by extracting and separating it from the surrounding air, and deliver it through a nasal cannula — may be stored in any position, but they should be padded to protect them from impact.
Small cylinder tanks holding compressed oxygen in gas form can also be stowed in any position, but the valve on top and the liter flow knob must be protected from collision through use of a seatbelt, webbing or other such device.
Other reputable oxygen sites, such as the American Thoracic Society, state to carry ALL oxygen units upright and secure while traveling. My recommendation is to always check with your oxygen company to confirm how to carry your particular unit.
All unit types should be protected from heat, so they should not be stored in a car’s trunk, where extreme heat build-up can occur. In case of a fire, additional oxygen causes a fire to burn more rapidly, so always keep a car window open at least a crack to prevent the accumulation of more than the normal amount of oxygen. When refilling oxygen tanks at an outdoor facility, always remove the tanks from your car and place them in a well-ventilated area.
Air Travel with Medical Oxygen
Travel by airplane also takes a good amount of research and preparation. No airline will allow you to bring aboard your own oxygen cylinder, but many airlines have medical oxygen cylinders available for a fee for use on their planes, such as Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Continental, Delta and Japan Airlines. The oxygen containers used on airplanes vary from airline to airline.
You must make arrangements to provide your own oxygen to and from the airplane. It is helpful to have someone take you to the airport and allow him or her to take your tank home.
Many airlines, such as Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier and Southwest, now allow travelers to bring aboard their own portable oxygen concentrators, but the airlines permit only the brands Inogen One or AirSep LifeStyle.
You must have enough fully charged batteries to last the entire flight and to allow for possible delays, as electricity will not be provided on the airplane. The way in which extra batteries must be stored varies from airline to airline. Contact your airline to obtain their regulations for battery storage.
You will also need to contact your airline to learn their requirements for advance notification of your need for medical oxygen. Many airlines will need a letter from your physician in advance of the flight, so they can contact him or her to verify liter flow. The letter should have a date of no more than one year prior to the flight (some airlines require a letter dated no more than 10 days prior to the flight), stating the amount of oxygen needed and the flow rate, adjusted to cabin pressure.
It is important to make advance arrangements for the delivery of oxygen to the airport of your destination. Almost all airlines require a 48-hour advance notice for domestic flights, and airlines can require up to 72 hours advance notice for international travel.
Cruising when on Medical Oxygen
Many cruise lines allow you to bring your own oxygen, and they allow all types. Some will accept deliveries from medical-supply companies, while others only allow certain companies to deliver. You will need to contact the customer service department of the cruise line for the regulations on each ship.
When traveling by train, contact the customer service department to obtain regulations about traveling with medical oxygen.
In the United States, Amtrak requires 12 hours advance notice. Your oxygen supply cannot rely on Amtrak’s electrical power system, and each cylinder can weigh no more than 50 pounds (22.7 kg).
The company allows only one of the following configurations: a two-tank system with tanks weighing no more than 50 pounds each, or a six-tank system with tanks weighing no more than 20 pounds (9 kg) per tank — and only if these tanks can be separated and handled individually. The oxygen equipment must be listed with Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM).
In Europe, the rules and regulations for oxygen use on Eurail vary from country to country. There is no one place to find the information for a trip that takes you from country to country. Your best bet is to contact the customer service department of the railroad in each country you will be traveling through. You can find this information on the Eurail Website.
Make sure that those around you are aware of your oxygen use. They should never smoke in your vicinity. Place a sign in you car, or on the door of your cruise or train cabin.
Being well prepared will make your travels much more enjoyable. Happy traveling!
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