Everything you need to know about flying with oxygen

Wing of a plane over clouds and blue sky

Flying with oxygen or any medical device can be a hassle. Keeping track of all the different airlines’ policies, following them, and remembering to bring everything you need can be confusing and add unneeded stress. That’s why we put together this post. It includes our top tips for flying with a portable oxygen concentrator and information about nearly 30 airlines’ oxygen policies.

Note, the information on this page was last updated on 28 December, 2018.

Our experience flying with oxygen

Sarah has a chronic lung disease and must use a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on flights. In the beginning, flying with a lung disease was scary. And all the extra things we had to do and think about didn’t help. But now, over eight years later, Sarah has flown with a portable oxygen concentrator many times on many airlines around the world. She’s used a few different devices, and now travels with the Inogen One G3. From the big behemoths to budget carriers, from the United States to Europe to Southeast Asia, we’ve got a lot of experience doing this.

We’ve seen things change for the better over the years. These days most airlines allow passengers to fly with their own portable oxygen concentrators. Some airlines provide oxygen canisters to passengers (for a fee), but this is becoming less common. Most importantly, so much more information about flying with oxygen specifically and about accessible travel in general is easily available on airlines’ websites. And more airline staff have experience dealing with people who fly with oxygen.

How to fly with a portable oxygen concentrator

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to flying with oxygen. And full disclosure, we’ve definitely messed some stuff up over the years. We’ve forgotten to contact an airline until the day before our flight. We’ve realized at the airport we forgot Sarah’s cannulas (and had to send Justin on a mad rush to get them). We’ve left the apartment without the actual POC (although that time we realized we were missing something halfway down the hall). So our advice to you: be more organized than us!

To help you do that, we’ve put together a checklist of the ten things you’ll likely need to do when you’re flying with a portable oxygen concentrator (POC).

1. Research and plan early

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to fly by the seat your pants when you’re flying with oxygen. It adds extra steps and often extra time to your travel planning. Contacting and hearing back from airlines can take time. And many airlines require a pre-approval period for passengers with medical conditions. So we recommend starting your research and making your travel plans sooner rather than later.

2. Make sure you have a POC (that works)

If you have your own device, great! If you don’t, arrange renting or borrowing one as early in the process as possible. If you’re renting a POC, test it right when you get it in case there’s a problem. If you have your own but don’t use it often, it’s probably a good idea to test it a couple weeks before you leave.

3. Figure out how many batteries you’ll need for your flight

The FAA requires that people who fly with a portable oxygen concentrator have enough batteries for 150% of the flight time. For example, for a flight that’s listed at four hours, your batteries should last at least six hours. We have never had anyone check this at the airport, but we always try to comply since you never know when a flight will take a little longer than planned. You might need to buy or rent an extra battery for your trip, so it’s best to figure that out sooner rather than too late.

4. Work with your doctor to obtain medical approvals

The majority of the airlines we fly require written doctor’s approval to use a portable oxygen concentrator. And many of them have time frames within which you need to get the forms or letters signed, dated, and submitted. Since we’d rather our doctors spend time helping patients than filling out airline forms, we try to make the process as easy and quick for them as possible.

First, we created a template for a fit-to-fly letter that can easily be adjusted to each flight and put on our doctor’s letterhead. Note, official letterhead can serve in place of a stamp, which is sometimes requested.

Second, we fill out all the non-medical information that’s required for MEDIFs (passenger name, make and model of POC, etc.) before sending them to Sarah’s doctor.

5. Learn a little bit of the local language

If you’re flying internationally, learn the words to talk about your medical device and your disease in the local language. We always learn the words for “oxygen,” “oxygen machine,” and “lung disease.” We usually also write them down in (the likely) case our pronunciation is off. This is especially helpful at security.

6. Charge your batteries and double check your supplies the day before you leave

Make sure all your batteries are charged – it can take a while. Double check you’ve packed all your supplies including extra batteries, AC adapter, and cannulas.

7. Organize your airline approvals and medical forms

Save all the approvals you get from the airlines and print them out or have them easily accessible for when you go to the airport. If you’re bringing digital copies, make sure they’re available offline (or take screenshots) because the flight attendants may ask to see them on the plane (this has happened to us more than a few times).

8. Get to the airport early

Long lines at check-in, explaining to the check-in attendant what a portable oxygen concentrator is, going through extra security screening, not being able to walk so fast – these are all reasons why you might need more time at the airport than your average traveler. We know, airports aren’t the greatest places to hang out for hours, but given the various delays we’ve faced flying with oxygen, it gives us peace of mind to get to the airport extra early.

9. Take advantage of airlines’ other special assistance offerings

If you need to use oxygen all the time, it might be helpful to request a wheelchair at the airport. That way you don’t have to worry about all your luggage and getting where you need to go in the airport. And pre-boarding is helpful if you want to get yourself, your luggage, and your POC situated on the plane before everyone else gets on. Just don’t feel embarrassed or like a burden asking for assistance. Do what’s right for you to make your trip easier and more manageable.

10. Try not to freak out when things go awry

Over the years flying with oxygen, more than a few things have gone awry. From customer service representatives telling us contradictory information, to check-in staff telling us forms were filled out incorrectly, to flight attendants needing to check with the captain (in-flight!) that use of the POC was ok – we’ve had a ton of potential freak-out moments. But everything has always worked out. We’ve always figured out if there was going to be a major hurdle flying a particular airline well before it disrupted our travel plans, and we’ve never not been allowed to board a plane. So if (and most likely when) something goes a bit awry, just keep calm and keep smiling and trust that if you followed the process, things will work out for you too.

Airlines’ oxygen policies

Here’s a list of all the airlines that we’ve flown with a portable oxygen concentrator, including information about their oxygen policies. We only felt comfortable including airlines we’ve actually flown, but there are certainly more that accept passengers flying with oxygen.

If a policy is what we’d consider clear and straightforward, we’ve simply provided the link to the policy on the airline’s website. If a link to a policy does not exist, or if the policy is unclear, or if we just have a good story about figuring it all out, we’ve provided more information.

We update and check the information on this page every time we fly a new airline. But airlines can (and do) update their policies at any time. If you notice a broken link or policy change, please us know.

Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus’ oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand’s policy regarding portable oxygen concentrators and other medical equipment.

American Airlines

American Airline’s oxygen policy and information about other medical and mobility devices.

Atlantic Airways

Atlantic Airways has information about using oxygen on the reduced mobility section of their booking page. However, they do not mention portable oxygen concentrators, so we contacted them. We were instructed to email them here with the necessary information about her flight reservation, the type of POC, and requirements. They responded in ~24 hours with an approval letter to be printed and brought to the airport/check-in agent. Everything went smoothly.

Austrian Airways

Austrian Airways’ portable oxygen concentrator policy and information about flying with medical conditions.

Bangkok Airways

The information on the Bangkok Airways website was a bit confusing, and at first we thought Sarah couldn’t fly them. But it was going to cause major problems with our itinerary plan so we emailed them here to inquire. They responded quickly and Sarah had to provide them with the make and model of the POC to obtain approval. They sent MEDIFs to be completed by Sarah and her doctor. We emailed them back for approval once we made the flight reservation and received approval within a couple days.

Delta

Delta’s policy regarding portable oxygen concentrators, other medical devices, and medication.

Easy Jet

Easy Jet’s policy regarding portable oxygen concentrators isn’t the most straightforward. You can find some basic information on their medical conditions page. But we also contacted them before our flight to confirm the requirements. Passengers must bring a medical certificate or letter from their doctor stating their illness and confirming their need to use the device. This does not need to be submitted to the airline in advance. One important note is that the POC must fit in your allowed cabin baggage, so pack accordingly or purchase extra baggage allowance.

Emirates

Emirates’ oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Finnair

Finnair’s oxygen policy and information about flying with medical conditions.

HK Express

HK Express’ portable oxygen concentrator policy and special assistance information.

Icelandair

Icelandair notes the portable oxygen concentrators they allow on their aircrafts on their special assistance page. It doesn’t explicitly state that you need to contact them to obtain approval to bring one, but we would recommend doing so just to be safe.

Jet2

Jet2’s portable oxygen concentrator policy and special assistance information.

Jet2’s policy states they only accept a small number of POCs on board. So we called Jet2 special assistance before booking our flight to ensure they accepted the Inogen One G3. They do (as do all the other airlines we’ve flown). The representative was extremely helpful and also emailed us the forms we would need to ask Sarah’s doctor to complete. As per his instruction, we called back after making our booking so that it could be noted in our reservation. We emailed the necessary forms when they were ready and got written approval within 24 hours.

Jet Blue

Jet Blue’s oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Jetstar

Jetstar’s oxygen policy.

POCs are only allowed on certain Jetstar flights, which is well laid out in their oxygen policy. We were sad that we could not fly Jetstar in Southeast Asia because their flights are super cheap! But we were able to fly them in New Zealand. At the airport, we were required to board the plane first and the flight attendant strapped the POC to the seat. It was something we’d never experienced before!

Lufthansa

Lufthansa’s portable oxygen concentrator policy can be found on their dangerous goods page. More general information about Lufthansa’s accessible travel policies can be found here.

Norwegian

Norwegian’s portable oxygen concentrator policy and information about flying with medical conditions.

Ryanair

Ryanair’s policy about oxygen and carrying other medical items onboard.

SAS

SAS’ oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Scoot

Scoot’s portable oxygen concentrator policy and special assistance information.

Note they have different requirements for flights originating from different countries.

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines’ portable oxygen concentrator policy and information about flying with medical conditions.

Singapore Airlines allows POCs on-board, but guidance around necessary approvals and forms is a little confusing. Everything has always gone smoothly flying them, but we still recommend contacting them once you’ve booked your flight to confirm everything.

Swiss International Air Lines

Swiss International Air Lines’ oxygen policy and information about flying with medical conditions.

TAP Air Portugal

TAP Air Portugal’s oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Thai Airways

The information on the Thai Airways website is confusing, so Sarah emailed every address she could find. The Thai Airways US desk got back to her. They sent MEDIFs for Sarah and her doctor to complete and send back to them to handle with the airline. One needs to do this 7 business days prior to one’s flight. Everything was approved and there were no issues on the flight.

Transavia

Transavia’s oxygen policy.

Ukrainian International Airlines

Ukrainian International Airlines’ portable oxygen concentrator policy and special assistance information.

Note, it is necessary to bring a completed MEDIF to the airport, but the link on the website is broken. Here is the link to the MEDIF.

United Airlines

United Airline’s onboard medical oxygen policy.

United Airline’s portable oxygen concentrator policy.

Vietnam Airlines

The Vietnam Airlines website only has information about arranging oxygen through the airline, which costs a fee. As such, Sarah emailed them here to ask if she could fly with a POC before making a reservation. They asked for a photograph of the POC as well as its dimensions. After that, they quickly responded advising it was okay and asked her to bring a physician’s statement. We recommend contacting them before booking.

Wizz Air

Wizz Air’s oxygen policy and special assistance information.

Note, Wizz Air has recently updated their baggage policy, but we’ve been informed that the POC does not count towards one’s baggage allowance.

We know all of this can be overwhelming. So if you have any questions about a specific airline or flying with oxygen in general, please feel free to ask in the comments or contact us.

Everything you need to know about flying with a portable oxygen concentrator or medical device; tips for flying with a POC; how to fly with a lung disease; #travel #traveltips #medicaldevice #flying #accessibletravel #chronicillness

3 thoughts on “Everything you need to know about flying with oxygen

  1. Maria Teniente says:

    Easy to read and understand. Perfectly worded and so thorough.
    On my trips, since I have to call ahead so that my machine is waiting at a hotel, I’ve experienced the following:
    1. I’ve called a few days before, just to verify all information, and end up receiving TWO machines! So now, I only call once.
    This happened 3 times!
    2. Many, many times, they will forget a part…small parts. So, I keep a list to review with them, when I call to order. Additionally, I always keep and carry extra parts small parts with me. (those inch long “connectors” and the tubing that go from water tank to machine)…

  2. Anne says:

    Very useful because of variety of individual airline requirements often in flux. I like to recharge my POC while waiting for my flight in the gate area to maximize my battery life. Having a power strip is helpful. If electrical outlets are all taken by cell phone rechargers, airport and airlines staff can help with access to outlet because medical needs have priority over phone. Another practice I have is to always take my POC to the toilet. Ventilation is often very poor, air fresheners and movement in the very small space can lead to shortness of breath.

    • Sarah and Justin says:

      Thanks for sharing your great tips! That’s especially interesting and good to know about airports prioritizing outlet use for medical situations.

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