Travelling with Oxygen

It is possible to travel and go on holidays if you use either supplemental or portable oxygen. Your own portable oxygen cylinders can be used on buses, coaches and trains but cannot be used on aircraft. This is due to a change of altitude and cabin pressure which increases the risk of any pressurized container exploding. Most airlines will provide supplemental oxygen on request with a fee. Let your airline know at time of booking that you require oxygen, so arrangements can be made to use their oxygen supply while travelling.

Within Ireland

If holidaying in Ireland, oxygen can be supplied by your oxygen company to most locations. Two to three weeks notice is required to ensure timely delivery to your destination. They will install an oxygen concentrator for those who require supplemental long term oxygen. Alternatively if you use portable oxygen they can deliver your supply of portable cylinders to your holiday destination.

Travelling Abroad

A lot of people take advantage of last minute deals to get a cheaper holiday, but if you use oxygen some planning is needed; therefore, last minute deals are not a good idea.

Before planning a holiday abroad speak with your G.P. or Respiratory Team. They will advise you on whether or not you require a flight assessment to determine your oxygen requirements and complete a Fit to Fly Form if requested by your airline.

Why Do I Need a Flight Assessment?

The air we breathe at ground level contains approximately 21% oxygen and this is the level at which your oxygen therapy needs were assessed. Airlines can cruise at altitudes above 12,192m and the cabin will be pressurized from approximately 1,829m. If flying to America, for example, the normal cruising altitude would be around 2,438m. The effect of this on people who use long term or portable oxygen is that the oxygen in the air drops from the 21% to ~15%. This fall in the level of oxygen available to breath can be quite dramatic for patients with respiratory conditions and may lead to increased shortness of breath, wheezing, light headed, chest pain, and lack of oxygen as demonstrated by blue lips and or finger nail beds.

A flight assessment can help identify those people who may develop such problems.

People who have lung complaints are at an increased risk of developing a blood clot in the lungs; otherwise known as a pulmonary embolism (P.E). Your GP will advise you on how to prevent a P.E.

When Planning on Travelling

  • Always seek medical advice before you book your holiday
  • Plan your trips at least 4 to 6 weeks before you travel
  • Always take details of your oxygen prescription with you
  • Always bring other accessories that you might need e.g. inhalers, cough syrup, nebulisers (as stated earlier you may need a doctors letter to accompany these items).
  • Check how long your portable oxygen cylinder will last and know what to do in an emergency
  • Always carry a spare oxygen cylinder in case of unexpected delays while travelling
  • Always take a list of your medications with you. Carry all your medication in your hand luggage in case your stowed luggage goes missing

 Ordering Oxygen for Flight

Not all airlines allow passengers to carry oxygen cylinders onto the plane but will provide oxygen for a fee. Some airlines will allow portable oxygen concentrators on board. The following steps are important before you book your flight:

  • Contact your travel company / airline to check the availability and cost of oxygen supplied by the airline or see if they will allow you carry a portable oxygen concentrator on board.
  • Order oxygen when you are booking your flight no later than two weeks prior to departure
  • You must provide an oxygen prescription from your doctor

Some airlines require a ‘Fitness to Fly Form’ which will include the results from your Hypoxia Challenge Test. This form should be completed by your respiratory doctor. The airline will supply you with the form or tell you where to get one.

Ordering Oxygen for Accommodation Abroad

A ‘Holiday Information Pack’ which includes all information and forms that need to be completed for holidaying abroad with oxygen can be obtained from your oxygen supplying company. When planning on travelling abroad, give your oxygen supplying company a call and they will send you out one of these packs. A private company in the UK provide a private holiday oxygen service. This company is called Holiox. They operate from certain countries and therefore can guarantee their oxygen service when notified in advance of travel. If they don’t operate from the country you wish to travel to, they will provide you with numbers of companies that do work from these countries but there is no guarantee of the other company’s service. If you are planning a cruise, check with your cruise company in advance of making your booking about oxygen on board.

If travelling within the European Union, make sure you get a European Health Insurance card. Contact your local health authority to request an EHIC. It is also available on line at: ehic.ie.

Steps to take

  • Are you FIT TO FLY?
  • If oxygen is required book with airline.
  • Contact Holiox to determine if oxygen is available at your destination and arrange same.
  • Bring a list of your medications, letters for equipment and prescription for you oxygen.

Useful Contact Numbers

Baywater Healthcare Limited: 01 8091800
Holiox: + 44 1270 218107

References

Belfast City Trust: Flight Assessment Explained
Irish Lung Association: Directory of Services
BTS recommendations 2002
ERS/ATS guidelines 2004

Information on travelling using oxygen therapies was supplied by © Respiratory Nursing Centre, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9.  Produced by: Deirdre Long, Respiratory Clinical Nurse Specialist, Brenda Deering, Senior Physiotherapist and Professor Richard Costello Consultant in Respiratory Medicine