Manufacturers and Airlines Face Approval Process for Portable Oxygen Usage in Flight

The approval of Special Federal Aviation Regulation No. 106 in August 2005 opened the door for passengers to use authorized portable oxygen concentrators onboard commercial aircraft. Although this legislation was historic, it was just the beginning.

Currently two manufacturers' products have FAA approval: AirSep's Lifestyle and Inogen's Inogen One. Currently other manufacturers of oxyen devices such as OxyTec are awaiting FAA approval. As manufacturers await FAA approval, the individual airlines are going through an approval process of their own as this new technology will require airlines to extensively educate their security personnel.

At Medtrade Spring in Las Vegas, representatives from Delta and American Airlines met with oxygen manufacturers to aquire more information about their products.

For a quick reference of approval by airline, see below.

Take to the Skies: Airlines that Approve

American West Airlines www.americawest.com.

Provides a downloadable physician's statement.

ATA Airlines ata.custhelp.com.

Accepts Airsep's Lifestyle only with a label that reads "RTCA/DO-160D Section 21 Category M Compliant." Inogen One is accepted.

Delta Airlines www.delta.com Only permits the Inogen One. Traveler must contact Reservations to notify airline of Inogen One use. A $25 non-refundable medical screening fee will be charged per passenger. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center will contact you to complete the screening process.

Hawaiian Airlines www.hawaiianair.com. Verification of appropriate device maintenance may be required. Power outlets are not available for passenger use.

Midwest Airlines www.midwestairlines.com/MAWeb/.

Northwest Airlines http://www.nwa.com. Only permits the Inogen One.

Southwest Airlines http://www.southwest.com. Requires a manufacturer's label on the device stating its approval for use onboard aircraft. The aircraft does not have power outlets. Pre-boarding is suggested.

US Airways http://www.usairways.com.

Several International Carriers permit the devices on a case-by-case basis.

Consumer Corner: Plan a Weekend Getaway

Need to get out of town? Traveling with oxygen onboard has presented weary passengers with several challenges, but recently, flying the friendly skies got a little easier thanks to two new products -- AirSep's LifeStyle and Inogen's Inogen One.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the two portable oxygen concentrators for use onboard commercial aircraft on Aug. 1, 2005. Many airlines have welcomed the devices with opened arms, making the hassles of securing onboard oxygen a bit simpler.

"At long last, oxygen users are regaining flexibility and control over their travel plans," says Inogen's Vice President of Marketing Daryl Risinger. "We've received letters from Inogen One users who have ventured not only to other states within the United States, but have traveled internationally to almost 20 countries as well. As additional airlines join the eight domestic air carriers now permitting the use of portable oxygen concentrators, travel options for oxygen users will reach parity with other air travelers. We can't imagine a better outcome."

Take note oxygen users, before you fly you must heed a few rules. First, let the airline know you plan to fly with one of the approved devices at least 48 hours prior to departure. Next, get a signed statement from a physician. The statement does not expire and should include the following details about your ability to see and hear alarms and respond appropriately:

When you require oxygen use, either all or part of the trip

The maximum flow rate corresponding to the pressure in the cabin under normal operating conditions

The statement must be presented to the aircraft operator during boarding.

"The Flight Safety Foundation has recently done an admirable job in encapsulating the instructions to airline industry cabin crews on what to expect with patient passengers bringing LifeStyle portable oxygen concentrators onboard aircraft for in-flight use," says Kathy Sanchez, marketing and public relations manager at AirSep Corp. "It's also well acknowledged that although patients (with their clinicians) bear the primary responsibility for determining that their physical condition allows for flying, it's also acknowledged that a medical emergency involving a passenger with a portable oxygen concentrator is to be handled in the same manner as a traveling patient onboard with any other medical device such as an insulin pump or nebulizer. Emergency medical assistance in-flight is expected to be administered in the same way, with or without a patient carry-on device."

Next, choose a window seat. Airlines restrict oxygen users from sitting in emergency exit rows or aisle seats. Extra time also may be needed for security screening. Arrive at the airport early and notify the gate that you are using an approved portable oxygen device.

The device must fit underneath the seat in front of you and must be stowed during taxiing, takeoff and landing. Both devices can be used during taxiing, takeoff and landing if the physician's statement indicates that you require oxygen during this time. In most cases, the portable oxygen concentrator is not counted toward your carry-on baggage limit.

Check with the airline to find out if a power outlet is available and what type. Inogen suggests bringing several different types of power adapters. Also bring batteries to accommodate the unit during delays or if the airline does not have a power outlet.

Inogen recommends the following checklist of items to remember when traveling:

AC power supply

Mobile power charger

Extra battery(s) if required to sustain flight time and delays (Package extra batteries for carry-on in a manner to prevent short circuit. Battery terminals must either be recessed or packaged so as to prevent contact with metal objects, including terminals of other batteries.)

Important phone numbers, including your physician, local home health care provider and a provider in the area where you're traveling

Make sure the oxygen concentrator is clean, in good condition and free of damage. Also inspect the equipment to make sure it is free of oil, grease or other petroleum products.

While many airlines accept both units, be sure to check with your airline to make sure the device is approved. "We're anticipating several more of the larger (airline) carriers announcing acceptance during the Spring time frame," says Sanchez. In addition, AirSep plans to launch new products for air travel and a new program -- LifeStyle Coast-to-Coast -- that will take into account both the users' and oxygen providers' needs for cross-country trips.

This article originally appeared in the March 2006 issue of HME Business.

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