Flying With COPD: What You Need to Know

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Air Travel With COPD

Flying With COPDIs the thought of air travel too daunting to contemplate, or are you a frequent flyer? Many other chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) sufferers tell me it’s too hard. With my experiences I have come to the conclusion that while flying with COPD can be difficult, it is possible.

Starting Point

If you plan to travel by plane, either on a domestic or international flight, you need to talk to your doctor about your oxygen requirements. If supplementary oxygen is already a part of your life, then it will be part of your time in the sky. If, like me, you don’t need supplementary oxygen on a daily basis, you will need to undergo an altitude test at a respiratory clinic or hospital.

Altitude testing is a simple process in which you are connected to a machine that can simulate altitude and the effect on your breathing and oxygen levels. We know as COPD patients the higher we are above sea level, the more difficult it is to breathe. The altitude test will measure your oxygen level changes at the altitude an aircraft flies.

My own testing resulted in an oxygen level drop to 81 percent, which is below a safe level, so it is necessary for me to have supplementary oxygen when traveling by air. Your doctor will be able to determine from the test results your oxygen requirements and type of device needed.

You can either purchase or hire your oxygen device from a retailer. Some airlines will even provide oxygen cylinders at an additional cost.

Booking Your Flight

This is where you need to be careful, as policies regarding flying with oxygen can vary between airlines — from what’s available on board, to the country’s regulations.

In fact, right now I am working with an airline to correct shortcomings in their policies on traveling with oxygen. Upon further investigation I’ve unearthed more shortcomings in policies adapted by a national aviation authority, so stay tuned for more on that.

You need to be fanatical about this process; you will be required to have your doctor complete a medical clearance form (most airlines have downloadable forms on their websites), and you will also have to check your airlines approved devices list to ensure your oxygen device will be allowed on board the aircraft.

When choosing your device and airline, it is important to know how you will power the device for the journey ahead. If relying on battery power, you should have enough batteries for the flight time and allow for any delays.

In the United States you are required to carry enough batteries to power your device for 150 percent of your flight time, which can amount to many batteries. Some airlines have power outlets in the seats, so you’re not reliant totally on battery power.

It’s important to talk to your airline about what your responsibilities are relating to powering your device and what you will need to take. I would suggest if you have any doubts to contact your local aviation authority who sets the rules.

Many airlines have a special assistance telephone number where they can take you through what’s involved. However, I recommend at least a week before you fly to check with the airline and ensure they have all appropriate forms so you don’t have any stress on the day you fly.

Next page: planning international flights and how to prepare the day of travel.

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