Portable Oxygen: A User's Perspective

Flying With Oxygen

Introduction In Flight
Preparations Disembarking
Embarking Summary

  Portable Oxygen: A User's Perspective
Flying With Oxygen

The information here provided is for educational purposes only and it is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your own physician or healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. 
Note: For updated information on Flying with Oxygen, including information on the use of Personal Oxygen Concentrators (POCs) CLICK HERE

This article by Pete Wilson is a timeless overview, including planning and guidance for flying with Oxygen


In the aftermath of September 11th, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in conjunction with the National Council on Disability (NCD), issued a Fact Sheet to encourage the large airlines and aviation associations to preserve and respect the civil rights of people with disabilities.while they take steps the ensure new security requirements.

Recommendations of DOT affecting users of oxygen are as follows:
  • Air carriers must provide meet and assist service (e.g., assistance to gate or aircraft) at drop-off points. The lack of curbside check-in, for certain airlines at some airports, has not changed the requirement for meet and assist service at drop-off points.
  •  Individuals assisting passengers with disabilities are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints. These individuals may be required to present themselves at the airlines’ check-in desk and receive a “pass” allowing them to go through the screener checkpoint without a ticket.
  • Ticketed passengers with their own oxygen for use on the ground are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints with their oxygen canisters once the canisters have been thoroughly inspected. If there is a request for oxygen at the gate for a qualified passenger with a disability, commercial oxygen providers are allowed beyond the screener checkpoints with oxygen canisters once the canisters have been thoroughly inspected. Commercial oxygen providers may be required to present themselves at the airlines’ check-in desk and receive a “pass” allowing them to go through the screener checkpoint without a ticket.
Chip from COPD-International provides us with the following:

  • Toll-Free Hotline For Air Travelers With Disabilities
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has established a toll-free hotline to assist travelers with disabilities.
  • The hotline will provide general information to consumers about the rights of air travelers with disabilities, respond to requests for printed consumer information, and assist air travelers with time-sensitive disability-related issues that need to be addressed in "real time." The line is staffed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time, seven days a week. Air travelers who experience disability-related air travel service problems may call the hotline at 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY) to obtain assistance. As in the past, air travelers who would like DOT to investigate a complaint about a disability issue must submit their complaint in writing or via e-mail.
  • "I believe today as I believed over a decade ago, as a co-author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, that accessibility in transportation is a civil right," said Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta. "The U.S. Department of Transportation is committed to increasing mobility for all Americans, particularly those with disabilities. The establishment of the toll-free hotline is a major step in facilitating accessible air travel for all individuals with disabilities."
  • In assisting individuals with disabilities who may have air travel complaints that require immediate intervention, the role of the DOT employees would be one of facilitating compliance with DOT's rules and suggesting possible customer-service solutions to the airline involved. Since compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act and DOT's implementing regulations remains the obligation of the carrier, airline employees would continue to decide what action will be taken in any given situation.
  • There are 2 lists of participating airlines at the website (one for US carriers, one for Foriegn carrriers.
  • The Dept of Transportation website link for this information is: http://www.dot.gov/airconsumer


If you are on oxygen therapy, you can still travel and you can still fly! While Federal regulations do not permit you to take your own oxygen onboard aircraft, most airlines are willing to provide it while you are in flight. Your oxygen provider can help supply you while you are on the ground both before you embark and when you disembark.

A successful trip for oxygen users requires advanced planning, and carefully manage execution of that planning during the trip. The purpose of this article is to help you do that. This article takes you through the four parts of an airline trip—Preparations, Embarking, In Flight, and Disembarking.

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Start by contacting the airline or your travel agent to make reservations well in advance of your travel date. Prepare to be flexible with your travel schedule since some airlines do not provide oxygen and those that do, do not do so on all flights. Be prepared with a well-thought out itinerary so that you do not need to make last minute changes. Airlines may require as much as 48 hours notice to reschedule passengers using oxygen. 

It is best to plan your travel so that you have a direct flight to your destination. Should you have stopovers, plan so you remain on the same aircraft, close to the oxygen. 

Once your reservations are confirmed, ask the ticketing agent to connect you with the Oxygen Desk agent. 

The Oxygen Desk agent will first reserve a seat on your flight. Request a seat near a restroom, particularly if you need to be connected to your oxygen source while you are out of your seat. You will likely be assigned a window seat so the oxygen cylinder, when placed under the seat in front of you, will not be in the way of other passengers in your row. You may be required to have a traveling companion who will be seated next to you.

The Oxygen Desk agent will ask for your physician's name and fax number. The agent will fax a form for signature to your physician that authorizes airline personnel to provide you with oxygen and to set the oxygen flow rate. Your physician will probably fax the completed form back to the Oxygen Desk. You should pick up several copies of this form from your doctor, one for each leg of your flight. 

The Oxygen Desk agent will inform you of the amount and cost of oxygen. Airlines charge $50 or more for oxygen. This cost is based on the number of containers necessary to meet your estimated consumption. Some airlines require you to purchase an additional seat to hold the any extra containers. Your insurance carrier may reimburse you for the cost of oxygen but probably not the cost of the extra seat. You should check with your insurance carrier and find out how to submit the paper work for reimbursement.

Airline charges for oxygen are usually nonrefundable, so do not pay all costs in advance. Pay only for the oxygen required on each leg at the airline ticket counter.

Ask the Oxygen Desk what size cylinders the airline uses and how many will be provided for your flight. You will need this information to verify for yourself that the airline has provided sufficient oxygen. You will probably find that the airline has provided many times what you believe is necessary. If takeoff or landing delays occur, or if your flight is redirected to another airport because of weather conditions, you will be thankful for the extra amount.

Some airlines use a “D” cylinder. This cylinder appears “fat” and is tall enough to reach you knees. It contains about 415 Liters. At settings of 1, 2, 3, or 4-Lpm continuous flow, a D cylinder will last 6.9, 3.5, 2.3, or 1.7 hours, respectively. 

You need to contact your local oxygen provider and share your travel plans. Your provider can arrange through a provider at your destination for the delivery of a concentrator and oxygen cylinders to a residence or hotel. Your provider may also be able to make arrangements for providing a cylinder at the airport when you disembark. If not, you will need to have a friend or relative meet you with a full cylinder in the Jetway when you disembark. 

To verify the oxygen is there when required, be certain to have your oxygen provider give you the name of the oxygen provider at your destination, its phone number, and the name of the person who is the responsible for oxygen patients on travel. 

It is always wise to carry a copy of your oxygen prescription. Oxygen providers away from your home will ask for a copy.

There is a publication that lists providers by state and town, and identifies providers by airport location. It is called Breathin’ Easy (Breathin’ Easy Travel Guide, 225 Daisy Dr., Napa, CA 94558, 707-252-9333, whose website is http://www.breathineasy.com/).

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Carry enough oxygen cylinders to the airport to provide for your needs until departure. Also carry with you a 50-foot extension hose and a connector. 

Arrive at the airport early and check in at the airline’s ticket counter. The ticket agent will confirm your seating, identify the departure gate, and arrange for oxygen delivery to the departure gate. You may need to present a copy of your physician’s authorization. At this time you will pay for the oxygen on this leg. Keep receipts.

There is no restriction on the use of your personal oxygen anywhere in the airport. This includes the Jetway to the aircraft. 
Wheelchair services are available everywhere in most airports. 

Electric carts may transport you between the security checkpoint to the aircraft departure/arrival gate. Outside the checkpoint the airport is responsible for wheelchair services and inside the checkpoint, it is the airlines. 

You should use wheelchair services and remain attached to your oxygen through the security checkpoint. You may bypass the walkthrough detector and be hand-scanned or patted down. You will be asked to open your oxygen bag. Security will be interested in your conserver and any other electronic devices you have, including your cell phone.

Once you are inside the security checkpoint, you can continue in the wheelchair or board an electric cart for the trip to your departure gate. Check in with the personnel at the boarding gate and tell them you will need a wheelchair during boarding Verify that the oxygen has arrived, particularly if the flight has experienced gate changes. 

Give a copy of your physician’s authorization to the gate personnel to give to a flight attendant and ask that the oxygen be set up with a cannula (or mask) at the rate specified.

You will probably be one of the first to answer the boarding call. Request wheelchair service in the Jetway since there will probably be a delay while flight attendants set up the oxygen at your seat. When you reach the aircraft entrance, verify that the oxygen is set up and operating. Insist that the cannula be removed from its plastic bag and attached so there is no delay in providing you with oxygen once you are seated. Only then, turn off your personal oxygen and remove the container from your carrying case. 

If you need to be on oxygen when you walk from the Jetway to your seat, give the flight attendant one end of your 50-foot extension. Keep the other end and the connection so you can hook up to the extension when the oxygen is turned on. When you reach your seat, coil and store the extra hose when it is not needed so that other passengers will not become entangled in it.

If friends are present to remove the used oxygen container from the airport, give it to them while they are in the Jetway. Otherwise, give airline personnel the empty cylinder. 

If the cylinder is empty, place it in a bag and hand the bag to an attendant to be “gate check.” The attendant will give you the stub of the ticket attached to the bag so you can pick up the bag with the rest of your baggage at your destination. Board the aircraft with oxygen bag, oxygen regulator, cylinder wrench, and cannula. You will need all this when you disembark.

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In Flight 

When you arrive at your seat, verify the oxygen is operational and is set to the proper flow rate. You should check to see how many cylinders the airline provided. 

Compare your total amount of oxygen in hours with the length of the flight, including anticipated waits at takeoff and layovers at intermediate stops. There should be sufficient oxygen and then some. If you think you have been provided too little oxygen, now is the time to be heard. 

Discuss with the flight attendant the procedure you want to follow when changing cylinders. If multiple cylinders are provided find out where they are stored and who will get a full one when one is needed. 

If you plan to use oxygen when you go to the restroom, now is the time to also discuss with the attendant the procedure you want to follow and whether or not you will need to remain connected to your oxygen.

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Expect to be the last to leave the aircraft. If you used the extension to board the aircraft, use it to disembark. Ask that a wheelchair be available as you exit the aircraft. 

If friends or relatives are meeting you, they may be able to meet you with oxygen in the Jetway as you exit the aircraft. If you requested that the local oxygen provider meet you at the airport, you may find that the oxygen is available in the baggage area, not the Jetway. 

Airline personnel will wheel you from the aircraft to the security checkpoint where a Red Cap will wheel you to the baggage area. If it is a busy time, you may find a line of wheelchairs awaiting Red Cap service. Others in line will yield priority to you if they know you are without your needed oxygen. For this reason you should wear your cannula and hold the tubing is such a way as it is clear you are unconnected to an oxygen source. You should also not permit the person from the airline to leave you until a Red Cap has been assigned to wheel you to the baggage area.

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Plan carefully and in advance. Select airlines that provide oxygen and secure nonstop or, at least, direct flights. Remember, airlines provide oxygen and airports do not. Airport personnel assist you in airport on one side of the security checkpoint and airline personnel on the other side. 

You can take your own oxygen right up the Jetway to the aircraft when you must give it to friends to remove from the airport or evacuate and send the container as “gate checked” luggage. Be certain the oxygen is on the aircraft, it is on, and it has a cannula attached before boarding. 

A final note--airport and airline people do not often handle oxygen patients. To be responsible such a person raises their stress level and they will react different ways. Sometimes they will listen to you, sometimes they will not. Be calm, patient, and coach them on how to help you. Tell them of your needs in advance. They can and will be very helpful.

© 2001 Copyright 
Peter M. Wilson, Ph.D. 
Founder of PortableOxygen.org

You have permission to print this document for your personal use. You also have permission to print, copy, and distribute this document to oxygen users and their caregivers. 

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Last Modified: December 26, 2013

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