Flying With a Portable Oxygen Concentrator
Air travel can be necessary for many individuals, whether it be to visit family, to fly somewhere for business, or even just to get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives. Those with respiratory related disabilities may require the use of a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on their flight. For more information about how to best travel with a POC, keep reading this blog.
What is a POC?
For those who are not familiar, a POC is defined as a mobile device that helps to deliver oxygen therapy to individuals who have low levels of oxygen in their blood. A POC will take ambient air from a person’s surroundings, purify it, compress it, and separate excess nitrogen from the oxygen so that the individual can receive the highest dose of oxygen possible.
These devices are smaller than at home oxygen concentrators, meaning that most can be used for travel purposes. Some are battery powered via a portable chargeable battery. Others can be simply plugged into the wall and charged that way. Most POCs can be transported via some sort of carrying pack or backpack, which also serve to protect the device. At any rate, POCs allow their users greater mobility, giving them the ability to travel more freely and safely.
What should I consider before traveling with my POC?
Above all else, consult with a physician before purchasing a ticket. You should discuss how to best make sure your needs are met during your travel, ask them if you can safely disconnect from the POC during your security screening, and definitely obtain a statement from your physician expressing your medical requirement for oxygen.
Travelers must make sure that the POC is FAA-approved. Otherwise, they may not be able to board with the device. A site that houses some FAA-approved POCs is linked here in case the one you have does not fit the FAA criteria.
Once you are sure that the POC you have is in line with the criteria that the FAA has laid out, the TSA states that certain POCs may be brought on board via a carry on or checked bag in a site linked here. However, they also state that the final decision of whether or not to permit an item on board rests with the TSA officer, so be sure to research if your POC does meet the requirements outlined by the FAA before flying.
According to the FAA, you should never rely on an airplane’s electrical power to charge your POC. They ask that you bring enough batteries to power the device for at least 150% of the expected maximum flight duration. For example, if your flight is 6 hours long, you should bring enough battery power to last 9 hours of flying.
TSA also states that not all airlines allow travel with a POC, so a traveler should definitely check with the airline before flying with them. We have listed a few major airlines and their phone numbers for airline accessibility below.
American Airlines - 800-237-7976
United Airlines - 1-800-228-2744
Delta Airlines - 404-209-3434
Southwest Airlines - 1-800-435-9792
Lufthansa - 1-800-645-3880
British Airways - 1-800-247-9297
Air France - 1 800 210-6508
Turkish Airlines - 1-800-874 8875
Qatar Airways - 1-800-778-4838
For other tips provided by the TSA, click on the link here to see their guidelines about respiratory equipment. Follow the link here to access an extremely helpful FAA document explaining their requirements and rules about usage of POCs on any flight.
What should I consider during my travels with my POC?
Once your device is approved and you have made your way to the gate, you are all ready to board and fly to your destination. While you are on your flight, there are still a few things to think about.
Be sure to store your device in a way that prevents other passengers from falling or tripping on the POC and damaging it. Below the seat in front of you is probably the best place, as it keeps the device away from others and still open to the air. It also allows you to see and hear any potential alarms that may come from the POC in case there is a problem.
In case there is an issue with the device itself, keep the device’s manual at hand so that you can troubleshoot any possible problems. Having the helpful information that the manual provides can be key to ensuring your safe flight.
You should also consider the possibility of cabin depressurization and its effects on POCs. At cabin pressure altitudes above 8,000-10,000 feet, the POC will typically not be able to meet the oxygen needs of the user. In this case, you should stop using the POC and turn over to the use of an oxygen mask that is deployed in the plane until the aircraft descends below 10,000 feet cabin pressure altitude.
By way of the FAA, you are prohibited from sitting in any seat in an exit row. If that somehow ends up being the case, alert a flight attendant and ask to be moved to another seat in the aircraft.
What are my rights when flying with a POC or any other assistive device?
Regardless of the assistive device that you are using, you possess certain rights according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which affirms that discrimination against those with disabilities is completely illegal.
In simple terms, if the device is FAA, TSA, and airline approved, then you should be able to board the aircraft with your POC. It is stated clearly in the Air Carrier Access Act, linked here.
Continuing on, the act states that airlines may not charge for providing accommodations required by the rule, such as hazardous materials packaging for batteries that could be used for POCs. However, airlines may charge for optional services, like providing oxygen.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against when traveling, please file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. You, like any passenger on the plane, deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. To write a complaint, please click on the link here.
Where should I go if I have more questions?
The first thing you can do is to check the TSA website, linked here, on information that they have about bringing POCs. The site may provide answers to questions you have about what to bring, screening, and more. If you feel that this is not enough, call your airline and discuss more specific concerns. We have provided their accessibility phone numbers for assistance above.
Thank you for tuning into our guide on travel with POCs. As always, if you find barriers or have suggestions please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know so that we can improve!