For sufferers of chronic lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the use of supplemental oxygen may be necessary at some point in your treatment plan. Yet, this does not mean that these individuals cannot travel via airline transportation. In fact, many people who require supplemental oxygen fly on a regular basis. However, additional planning is required.
Once approved for air travel by your physician or care team, it is important to check with the airline regarding their supplemental oxygen guidelines. While many will allow passengers to travel with a portable oxygen tank, some will not, meaning checking with your specific carrier is imperative before booking any flights.
Once you have identified an airline carrier who will accommodate your portable oxygen needs, it is important to identify any additional information they may need. Included in this may be a letter from your physician, a brief medical history and a current oxygen prescription. Passengers should also check to ensure that their portable oxygen concentrator has been approved for in-flight use.
Depending on your reliance on a portable oxygen device, the manner in which you will be screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may vary.
For those individuals who have been advised by their physician that they can safely disconnect from the portable oxygen concentrator, screening will occur through the airport’s Advanced Imaging Technology. In addition, TSA recommends that the passenger check the equipment as checked baggage whenever possible. If you would prefer to bring your oxygen concentrator on the flight as a carry-on bag, the equipment will either undergo X-ray screening or inspection.
If you are unable to or would prefer not to disconnect from the portable oxygen device, TSA will conduct the screening through a pat-down procedure similar to those that are used to resolve any alarms or anomalies identified by the imaging technology.
Please note that it is important for the passenger to inform the security officer whether he or she can disconnect from the oxygen supply before the screening process begins.
For more information on the screening process for travelers requiring portable oxygen, please visit the TSA website for Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Conditions.
For additional information on traveling with COPD or emphysema, including a checklist for airline travel and tips for travelers, visit the Cleveland Clinic’s website for COPD - Traveling Tips for People with COPD. If you are newly diagnosed with a chronic lung condition, you may also find it helpful to read the following travel information, which can be found on our website under “Living with COPD.”