Taking Oxygen on the Road

Over the last seven years, portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) in general have become far more reliable, economic, smaller, and lightweight than previous models. And manufacturers continue to develop new products that cater to the traveling oxygen user.

Therefore, oxygen users no longer need to carry 30-pound units with them for sleeping while traveling. For example, one POC on the market is 4.9 pounds and has a sleep mode that enables patients to sleep with the device. Another unit is 10 pounds and has a continuous flow rate of 2. While there may not be ideal for all patients they are excellent options for the majority of traveling oxygen users.

“One of the main challenges that patients may have when traveling with POCs is just obtaining one,” says Caleb Umstead, director of customer education, 1st Class Medical Inc. “While pricing has come down over the years, POCs still remain one of the most expensive oxygen devices. Because of this, many DME suppliers either do not carry devices or have only a few for patients to use during travel. This can cause an availability problem during the busy traveling season for oxygen users. Many DMEs have a waiting list for rentals and loaner POCs.”

Each POC is different, and uses either one or multiple lithium ion batteries. The proper charging of batteries and the ability to change batteries during travel are critical. Umstead recommends that before patients travel, they should get proper POC instruction and use the device several days prior to traveling to ensure that they understand how to use the POC and the audible and visual signals that the device offers.

Air Travel

To travel by air, a patient’s POC must be FAA approved.

“The TSA and the airlines may not be up to date with the latest FAA-approved devices,” says Umstead. “Many of the airlines have a list of acceptable devices allowed on the aircraft. Check this list twice to ensure that your device is approved by the airline to avoid any hassles while flying. Many of the airlines are very knowledgeable and make traveling with a POC commonplace or routine. As every airline traveler knows, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of reservation confirmations, boarding passes, and baggage claims. Being prepared is never more important than it is when you are traveling with oxygen.”

Here is a list of what you should expect when traveling by air with your portable oxygen concentrator:

  • Some airlines require and all recommend a 48 to 72 hour advance reservation.
  • You may be required to show that you have enough battery life to last up to 150 percent of the expected flight duration, including ground time. This means that you will need to know the expected duration of the flight and how many charged batteries you will need.
  • Some airlines have power ports or outlets available during flight. Although you may be able to use one, you will still need to have enough battery power to last the required time.
  • Airlines require that your doctor complete a form called a Physician’s Statement.
  • You may be asked to show your Physician Statement prior to boarding. Keep a copy with your boarding pass just in case.
  • Your choice of seating may be limited. As a general rule, you won’t be able to sit in an exit row and you will be required to sit in a seat that provides enough space to store your machine in front of you.
  • Some flights include flying on a different carrier during different segments of your flight. If this is the case for your flight, you will need to follow the appropriate steps for each carrier that you will be flying on.

Auto Travel

Although Umstead says that traveling by automobile is very easy, he offers these tips to make sure patients are prepared:

  • Make Sure that your power sources (batteries) are fully charged.
  • Keep POCs out of direct heat or in a well-ventilated location in the automobile. Ensure that the machine’s intake is not blocked.
  • Check to see if the DC power supply is working (green light).

“When traveling you should always have a backup plan, in the event something goes wrong,” says Umstead. “I always recommend contacting or at the very least getting a contact number of a local provider when traveling to your destination. POCs have become very reliable; however, they are still mechanical devices and may sometimes malfunction if not properly maintained. Ensure that you abide by the manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule as to prevent possible breakdowns.”

Points to take away:

  • The proper charging of batteries and the ability to change batteries during travel are critical.
  • Before traveling, patients should get proper POC instruction and be comfortable using the device.
  • To travel by air, a patient’s POC must be FAA approved.
  • Understand the rules of your specific airline and the documents required to board.
  • When traveling by car, keep POCs out of direct heat or in a well-ventilated location in the automobile.
  • When traveling, have a backup plan, such as having a contact number of a local provider at your destination.

Learn More:

  • Visit our compendium of POC articles/products on HME-business.com.
  • Visit manufacturer websites, as many have excellent information about POCs and travel.
  • Visit airline and railway websites for specific information about POCs and travel.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of HME Business.


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