Flying With a Portable Oxygen Concentrator

Sarah must use a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on flights. In the beginning, this was a bit of a scary experience. Over the years, we’ve navigated how to do this on numerous airlines. And now we’re sharing our knowledge with you here!

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 the airline

Generally, for airlines we’ve flown with before or those that have a clear POC policy online, we aim to advise them (ideally by phone) that Sarah will be flying with a POC 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.

The forms

Most airlines still require that you and your doctor complete a form explaining that you must use a POC in-flight. (See below for airline-specific information.) We always 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 OK.

How many batteries?

Most airlines require that one travel with enough batteries so the POC 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

Make sure all your batteries are charged well-enough in advance (it takes a while!). If you’re renting or borrowing the machine, 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 I 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, I’ve walked out the door without it and realized halfway down the hall that I 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.

Airline-specific information

This super informative page by Oxygen Solutions provides links to the POC policies of all airlines that have a clear POC policy.

We’ve flown with 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 more.

We heard that some US-based airlines have changed their POC 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 October 29, 2017.

Air Berlin

Their 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.

Atlantic Airways

There is nothing on their 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.

Austrian Airways

On their 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.

Bangkok Airways

The information on their website was a bit confusing, and at first I thought I couldn’t fly them. But it was going to cause major problems with our itinerary plan so I emailed them here to inquire. They responded quickly and I had to provide them with the make and model of the POC to obtain approval. They sent me MEDIFs to be completed by me and my doctor. I emailed them back for approval once I made the flight reservation and was approved within 1-2 days. On the first flight, I did not ask the check-in desk attendant if my information was in the system (it was a really small airport and I didn’t think they would understand me). On the flight, the flight attendant questioned me 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 – I always make sure the information about my 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.

Finnair

The FAQ section of their 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.

HK Express

You and your doctor must complete their 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.

Jetstar

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! We flew them in NZ. You must email a completed form (from their website) and they will respond with approval. My emails weren’t going through so I ended up faxing it and that worked. At the airport, I was required to board the plane first and the flight attendant strapped the POC to my seat. It was something I’d never experienced before!

Norwegian

The 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 I have not had to do that.

SAS

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.

Scoot

We flew Scoot twice. The first time, I called their customer service line and the representative said I should bring a physician’s statement from my doctor stating that I was fit to fly with Scoot on the date of my flight. The letter needed to have a physician’s stamp (my doctor doesn’t have one) or be on letterhead with their license number. They also said they would note my requirements in my reservation. The second time, I called again and was told I didn’t need to call and they wouldn’t note anything, but of course I had to bring the letter. That time when I got to the airport they asked me to complete and sign a form stating what assistance I would need. Both times everything went smoothly in-flight. But since their policy and procedures seem to changed slightly, if we fly again, I’ll probably call again.

TAP Air Portugal

From their 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.

Thai Airways

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

Vietnam Airlines

Their website only has information about arranging oxygen through the airline, which costs a fee. As such, I emailed them here to ask if I 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 me to complete a MEDIF or to bring a letter from my doctor. On one flight, the check-in desk was not aware of my situation and was not happy about it. But after reviewing all the documentation I had (including the email exchange with the Vietnam Airlines representative), it was okay. On my second flight, everything went smoothly.

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If you have had any different experiences flying with a portable oxygen concentrator or have any questions, let us know in the comments!