Air travel is exciting, whether you're reuniting with loved ones during the holidays or jetting off to your dream destination. However, for individuals with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and under oxygen therapy, the prospect of air travel may seem like a distant dream.
Fear not, for we've unwrapped a bundle of travel wisdom to make your journey not just possible but safe and genuinely delightful!
But first, let's ask an important question.
The cabin pressure in commercial airplanes differs from ground-level pressure, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels. While this might not be a big deal for most passengers, people with COPD can find it uncomfortable due to reduced oxygen. This, coupled with the recycled air in the confined space can make the journey less than pleasant for those dealing with respiratory disorders.
So, does this mean COPD patients can't comfortably travel by airplane? Not at all! With the right preparations and precautions, you can certainly experience a joyful voyage.
First on the list, schedule an appointment with your physician for a comprehensive assessment of your overall health. Conducting a thorough check-up will help determine whether you're fit for the journey. Openly discuss your needs and concerns with your doctor and, if necessary, get the appropriate medication which may include a portable oxygen concentrator for oxygen therapy.
A portable oxygen source is the key to tackling hypoxia during your flight. Unfortunately, oxygen cylinders aren't allowed within the cabin of commercial flights since they are considered hazardous. That's why you will need a portable oxygen concentrator like the GCE Zen-O or Zen-O lite that meets the requirements of the FAA to continue your oxygen therapy while on board a commercial airplane.
Most commercial airlines reference the guidelines of the US FAA with regard to the use of portable oxygen concentrators in an airplane.
The FAA issued a rule that came into effect on August 22, 2016, stipulating that POCs meeting airplane use requirements must bear the following declaration in red text. The declaration should state, “The manufacturer of this POC has determined this device conforms to all applicable FAA acceptance criteria for POC carriage and use on board an aircraft”. Both the Zen-O and Zen-O lite portable oxygen concentrators have this declaration stated on their respective labels.
Ensure you are stocked on all your medications, medical equipment, and essentials for your journey and stay. Additionally, double-check if the devices like oxygen therapy equipment are operational and fully charged. Always carry enough batteries to cover 150% of the expected air travel time! Ensure the batteries are properly packed in your hand luggage. Most batteries for portable oxygen concentrators contain lithium-ion cells. You must never check in luggage that contains lithium-ion batteries.
It would be wise to bring along your medical records and an information card with all your vital medical information like personal details, allergies, therapies, and more.
While booking flights, go for direct flights to minimize the stress of multiple takeoffs and landings. Also, choose convenient seats, like aisle seats close to the bathroom – perfect for a quick refresh if you require.
Request assistance and inform the airline about any special requirements well in advance. If you're bringing a portable oxygen concentrator, it is best to double-check if your airlines allow your portable oxygen machine. Better safe than sorry!
Consider obtaining travel insurance that covers your medical emergencies throughout your trip. That way, you can enjoy the journey with total peace of mind.
Ensure that your vaccinations, including flu and pneumonia shots, are up to date before embarking on your travels. Always follow the advice of your clinician.
Stash your essential medications, like inhalers, into your hand luggage for quick and easy access.
The cabin air gets dry due to the high altitude, and the dryness can lead to dehydration, especially on long-haul flights. Dehydration can increase inflammation in the body, potentially making COPD symptoms worse. That's why it's important to keep yourself well-hydrated and steer clear of alcohol and caffeine during the flight.
Perform in-seat exercises to boost circulation and reduce stiffness. Incorporate some COPD breathing exercises to keep your lungs in top shape and alleviate travel jitters. These breathing exercises can strengthen your respiratory muscles and increase oxygen intake.
Upon arrival, take some time to rest and allow your body to recover from the travel. Relax until you adjust to the climate and conditions of your destination, especially if it drastically differs from your home environment.
Familiarize yourself with the location of the nearest medical facilities and pharmacies just in case. Keep an eye on any changes in your symptoms of COPD, and if you need medical help during your stay, don't hesitate to seek it out right away.
Woo-hoo! You made it to your destination all safe and sound. Now, as you gear up for the journey back, follow these 13 air travel tips. Share these tips and your travel experiences with fellow COPD patients to encourage them to explore the world without compromising their health. Bon voyage!