Many people with COPD need supplemental oxygen therapy. Unfortunately, some people who use portable oxygen are wary of traveling with oxygen. So they opt to stay at home instead of going out to see friends, shop, or enjoy a vacation.
But oxygen therapy can actually enhance your physical ability to go places and do things that the advance stage of COPD was keeping you from doing. Once you’ve learned what’s involved, you may find that oxygen gives you more freedom to go places and do things you want to do.
Switch to Portable Oxygen Therapy
If you don’t use one already, you’ll need to switch to a portable oxygen delivery system for trips away from home. Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs), hold compressed oxygen in small tanks. Most POC tanks come with carrying cases and travel carts. These are excellent for using in airports or simply going sightseeing.
POCs run on batteries. Some batteries can last up to five hours. POCs also have AC/DC adapters so they can be plugged in when you are in a car or in a location with electrical outlets. The portable oxygen delivery system will allow you to have more freedom to live an active life.
Always keep the phone number of your oxygen supplier close by. You never know when you might have problems with your portable oxygen — whether you’re in town or out of town. Here are more tips on traveling with oxygen:
Land Travel With Portable Oxygen
First, talk with your doctor. Ask if it’s safe for you to travel with COPD. Let your doctor know about your travel destination. This is particularly important if you are traveling to higher altitudes or traveling outside the country.
If you’re going by car or motor home, you’ll have few restrictions in traveling with oxygen. You can take portable oxygen with you in the vehicle if it’s stored safely. Keep your oxygen in the vehicle during travel but away from heat. Partially roll down a window as oxygen containers give off gasses. These gasses can build up in small spaces and be hazardous.
Never store the portable oxygen concentrator in the trunk or other areas that get hot. And make sure no one in the vehicle smokes.
Depending on how far you’re traveling on land, plan ahead to get refills of oxygen. Your oxygen supplier can help you arrange this before you leave.
If you’re taking a bus, call the bus line before the trip. Ask if you can travel with portable oxygen on the bus. Again, make sure no smoking is allowed on the bus you select.
Traveling with oxygen by train should be fine with portable oxygen. Again, call the railway line ahead of time to check on bringing portable oxygen on board. On the train, stay away from smokers (use the “no smoking” cars only). Also, allow for enough oxygen for the trip plus extra for traveling to and from your destinations.
Day Trips and Eating Out With Portable Oxygen
Even with oxygen therapy, you can go to restaurants, shopping malls, movie theaters, symphonies, religious gatherings, and other places. Again, to have a successful day trip with portable oxygen, abide by the rules of safety when traveling with oxygen:
- Check the tank before leaving home to make sure you have enough oxygen — enough for the trip to and from the destination, plus extra.
- Make sure your oxygen equipment works well.
- When you arrive at your destination, do not sit in smoking areas or get near smokers.
- Ask to have any candles removed from your table in restaurants.
Cruising With Portable Oxygen
Before you make reservations for a cruise, talk with the cruise line personnel. Ask about the ship’s policies for bringing portable oxygen. Sometimes, supplemental oxygen is provided on the ship. If not, you’ll need to bring plenty of oxygen to last the entire cruise, plus extra.
You may be able to get oxygen refills when the ship docks at each port of call, but ask ahead of time to be sure.
Also, take the appropriate electrical conversion devices for your portable oxygen equipment. While the cruise ships from the U.S. may use standard electrical outlets, converters are especially important to bring when traveling outside the United States.
Air Travel With Oxygen
Many people with COPD must use in-flight supplemental oxygen during air travel. To be able to do this, you will need to make arrangements ahead of time. Here are some guidelines to help you make the trip easier:
- Ask the airline about policies on using portable oxygen when you first make your reservation.
- Find out which portable oxygen concentrators are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for use on the flight. Your airline must approve the type of portable oxygen you use in order for you to bring it with you.
- If you don’t have the FAA approved type of container, ask your oxygen provider if you can rent an FAA-approved portable oxygen concentrator.
- Try to get a nonstop or direct flight to alleviate worries about layovers or missing a connecting flight.
- Contact the airlines again 48 hours before takeoff. Remind them that you’re traveling with oxygen. Some airlines must inspect the oxygen tank 48 hours ahead of the flight to approve its use on the plane. Other airlines may provide oxygen to use on the plane for a fee.
- Contact your insurance company to see if you need supplementary coverage for traveling with oxygen during your flight.
- Get a prescription for supplemental oxygen from your physician and keep this with you — always. This prescription should verify the need for in-flight oxygen and also give specifics on how long oxygen should be used and on the oxygen flow rate. The airlines may have their own forms for your physician to fill out — so be sure to get these filled out early.
- At your doctor’s discretion, you may need an increase in the oxygen flow rate during air travel. Be sure you talk to your doctor about this so you have no discomfort breathing when flying at high altitudes.
- The airlines may require you to bring ample batteries to power your POC. Make sure your battery lasts 50% longer than the total time of your trip — from the time you leave your home until you arrive at your final destination. You don’t want to have any gaps in getting necessary oxygen for COPD.