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 a bit of a scary experience. But over the years, we’ve navigated how to fly with a portable oxygen concentrator on numerous airlines. And now we’re sharing our knowledge with you here! We’ve included links to airline portable oxygen concentrator policies as well as general advice.
Please note, this is information concerning use of a battery-operated portable oxygen concentrator. While it is rare these days, some airlines do still offer the ability to use airline-supplied oxygen canisters on-board. We are not familiar with any of those guidelines or procedures.
Contacting airlines about using a medical device in-flight
Generally, for airlines we’ve flown with before or those that have a clear portable oxygen concentrator policy online, we aim to advise them (ideally by phone) that Sarah will be flying with a portable oxygen concentrator (and using it in-flight) within a day or two of booking a flight. For airlines we are uncertain about, we contact them in advance of booking. In the cases of internationally-based airlines, this contact is usually made by email.
Fit to fly and other forms
Most airlines still require that you and your doctor complete a form explaining that you must use a portable oxygen concentrator (or other medical device) in-flight. (See below for airline-specific information.) We try to carry several copies of the forms with us when we travel just in case more than one person needs one. Due to Sarah’s relationship with her doctor, she usually gets a scan of the form to print instead of the original. Only one person has ever noted that the form does not contain an original signature and in the end it was all okay.
How many portable oxygen concentrator batteries will you need?
Most airlines require that one travel with enough batteries so the portable oxygen concentrator can function for 150% of the listed flight time. No one at any airline has ever checked to ensure we have the proper number of batteries. But we always comply anyway since you never know when a flight will take a little longer than planned or a battery will malfunction.
What airlines have checked is that the batteries are stored separately, not touching each other. This protects them against shorting and is good practice.
Be organized when you’re flying with a medical device
Make sure all your batteries are charged well-enough in advance (it takes a while!). If you’re renting or borrowing a portable oxygen concentrator, test it as soon as possible after receipt.
Ensure you have packed everything you need including extra batteries, AC adapter, and cannulas. (Yes, one time Sarah forgot cannulas and only realized it at the check-in desk and Justin had to go all he way back home in a taxi that he commandeered to grab them. And by some miracle – and because we got to the airport insanely early – we made our flight.)
Remember to take the POC with you when you leave! (Yes, Sarah has walked out the door without it and realized halfway down the hall that she was missing something.)
Get to the airport early
Most airlines won’t let you check in online if you have a special/medical case, which means you’ll have to deal with potentially long lines at check-in. Check-in staff often haven’t dealt with these situations before, so there will be extra time needed to check and confirm everything (and this sometimes requires getting a supervisor). Most often the POC and its batteries will require an extra level of screening at security. And, you never know when you will have unexpected delays (see aforementioned forgotten cannulas story!). All-in-all it always gives us peace of mind to get to the airport extra early.
This super informative page by Oxygen Solutions provides links to the POC policies of all airlines that have a clear POC policy. Note, it was written a few years ago, so some of the policies may have changed.
We’ve flown on many airlines not on their list. Below are links to those oxygen policies or details about the process if a link is not available. We’ll update this page as we fly with a portable oxygen concentrator on more airlines.
We heard that some US-based airlines have changed their medical device policies (for the better!) but we haven’t flown those in a while, so don’t have any differing experience to share yet. Once we do, we definitely will!
Please note, this page was last updated on March 21, 2018.
The Air Berlin website states that you must notify them in advance of flying to register the need to bring and use a POC in-flight. The website used to say this needed to be done 7 days in advance, but now it doesn’t specify. As with everything, we recommend doing so as early as possible after making a reservation.
There is nothing on the Atlantic Airways website about using a POC. As such, Sarah called them and was 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.
On the Austrian Airways website is a list of the approved POCs that may be brought and used on-board as well as a clear list of instructions to gain approval.
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 was approved within 1-2 days. On the first flight, we did not ask the check-in desk attendant if Sarah’s information was in the system (it was a really small airport and we didn’t think they would understand me). On the flight, the flight attendant questioned Sarah and ended up taking photos of the POC as well as my approval email to show the captain! It ended up being fine, but lesson learned – we always make sure the information about using the POC on-board/in-flight is in their system at check-in and sometimes at the gate as well. We’ve flown with Bangkok Airways multiple times since then and it all went smoothly.
The FAQ section of the Finnair website advises that you must contact them to obtain approval to use a POC “well in advance” of your flight. We typically try to call within a couple days of making a reservation.
You and your doctor must complete the HK Express form, which must be dated within 10 days of your flight. You must notify their call center of your needs at least 72 hours before the flight.
POCs are only allowed on certain Jetstar flights, which is well laid out in their policy. We were sad that we could not fly on their airline in Southeast Asia because their flights are super cheap! But we were able to fly them in NZ. You must email a completed form (from their website) and they will respond with approval. Sarah’s emails weren’t going through so we ended up faxing it and that worked. 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!
The Norwegian website advises you to call them at least 48 hours in advance of your flight to alert them you’ll be traveling with a POC. It says they may require you to bring a medical statement saying you’re fit to fly, but we have not had to do that.
SAS offers numerous oxygen options. If you are bringing a POC, you must email them here in advance to let them know the situation/have everything approved.
We flew Scoot twice. The first time, Sarah called their customer service line and the representative said she should bring a physician’s statement from her doctor stating that she was fit to fly with Scoot on the date of the flight. The letter needed to have a physician’s stamp (Sarah’s doctor doesn’t have one) or be on letterhead with their license number. They also said they would note Sarah’s requirements in my reservation. The second time, Sarah called again and was told she didn’t need to call and they wouldn’t note anything, but of course she had to bring the letter. That time when we got to the airport they asked me to complete and sign a form stating what assistance Sarah would need. Both times everything went smoothly in-flight. But since their policy and procedures seem to change from flight to flight, if we fly again, we’ll probably call again.
From the TAP Air Portugal website, it appears their policy has changed since we flew their airline. Now it says you must contact their service center and they will advise what to do. We had to complete a MEDIF and experienced a bit of hassle at the check-in desk. But hopefully it’s a much smoother process now.
The information on the Thai Airways website is confusing, so Sarah emailed every address she could find. The 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’s oxygen policy is easy to find on their website and it was very easy to fly the airline with a portable oxygen concentrator. During the booking process, you can simply click a button that says you need special assistance and what type. The policy says you must bring a letter from your physician stating that you need to use supplemental oxygen in-flight and that you are fit to fly, but no one checked or asked for this. In all, it was a completely seamless, stress-free process.
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 asking her to complete a MEDIF or to bring a letter from my doctor. On one flight, the check-in desk was not aware of the situation and was not happy about it. But after reviewing all the documentation we had (including the email exchange with the Vietnam Airlines representative), it was okay. On our second flight, everything went smoothly.
Wizz Air is a low cost airline, but they have a good POC policy. Their website states you must inform them of your needs at least 48 hours prior to departure. We called and they confirmed the model and noted it in my reservation. The only sticky point was baggage allowance. We were only going for a short trip and didn’t want to pay for extra baggage. The Wizz Air representative on the phone told us that normally the POC would count towards my baggage allowance, but since the website was a bit unclear, he would make a note in the system that it wouldn’t. No one at the airport questioned anything about the POC or our other luggage.