Now that international travel has resumed, many people, friends and families are starting to dream once more about taking a holiday abroad. Planning a holiday is a fun and exciting time, but there are also lots of practicalities to think about. If you, or a member/members of your travel party have particular health needs, you may need to take extra precautions. Personally, I can’t relax about a holiday until I know we’ve sorted all the paperwork and items on my checklist regarding travelling with my son, Danny, due to his heart condition. People with heart conditions and/or respiratory diseases require a “fit to fly” letter before a flight and may require in-flight oxygen because the air on a plane contains less oxygen that the air we usually breathe in. Read on to find out five things to expect when travelling with oxygen:
1. Fit to Fly
Most importantly, before you start dreaming about a holiday abroad, check that you (or the person with a medical condition) are in good enough health to travel. It’s important to plan well in advance. At your next consultation mention that you’re thinking of going away to check if the consultant would be happy to issue a “fit to fly” certificate. They can also give you an idea of how long a flight they feel you could manage. This is just to check that the holiday is a possibility and to choose the most appropriate destination. Your actual fit to fly letter needs to be issued as close to your travel date as possible so it is still valid for your date of travel. Ask for this again at your last consultation before the holiday. In our case as Danny’s consultant was happy with his health at his last appointment, he was then happy to talk to us on the phone two weeks before our flight date and issue an up to date fit to fly letter. We sorted this through his Cardiac Liaison Nurse (CLN) who was amazing. Generally fit to fly letters can be issued by your GP, but there will be a charge.
2. Will I Need Oxygen?
Once you’ve been given the fit to fly approval, you need to check if you will need oxygen on your flight. It goes without saying that, if you require oxygen therapy consistently then you are going to need it during your travel. However, some people with cardiac and respiratory diseases will only need oxygen depending on their Hypoxic challenge test (HCT) results and the duration of the flight. This test is requested by your Consultant, Nurse, GP and will be performed in the hospital lung function laboratory. HCT (Hypoxic challenge test) stimulates cabin pressure using 15% oxygen.
3. Check Airline Oxygen Policies and Organise Oxygen
Before booking your holiday, check airline oxygen policies. These can vary and you may find some airlines more accommodating than others. Some airlines, for example, British Airways, will provide in flight oxygen free of charge on long haul flights but this is restricted to one passenger per flight. Other airlines, such as EasyJet will allow you to carry 2 x oxygen cylinders of your own on board or to use an oxygen concentrator. Most airlines will allow you to take a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) on board as part of your hand baggage allowance as long as it’s approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and you get medical clearance before you fly.
What is a Portable Oxygen Concentrator (POC)?
Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs) are made to filter nitrogen from the air and deliver concentrated oxygen to the user. As the devices do not carry compressed oxygen, they aren’t considered hazardous to flight safety. If you do need to organise your own oxygen, organise this in advance. Visit The Oxygen Store who sell FAA approved portable oxygen concentrators (POC), such as the Inogen POC. They also have great advice on their website about travelling with oxygen.
4. Inform Airlines
It’s important to inform your airline about your oxygen needs at the time of booking. You will already have had to fill out their passenger medical form and have been issued a fit to fly letter. You also need to either book their onboard oxygen for long haul flights or complete a form for medical clearance to take your own Portable Oxygen Cylinder or Portable Oxygen Concentrator on board. Check the guidelines for your airline but generally medical forms should be despatched to the medical clearance team a minimum of 7 days prior to departure.
5. Power and other Precautions
It is vital that before you travel, you ensure that the oxygen equipment is working properly. You must have plenty of batteries for your portable oxygen concentrator; you need enough to last the whole flight comfortably. Airlines advise customers must have sufficient battery provision for at least 150% of the flight duration (this is to account for unexpected delays). If you need oxygen on a cruise or ferry, Portable Oxygen Concentrators are multi-voltage and will operate between 110 volts and 240 volts.
So in summary, always check with your consultant and airline before travelling if you have a medical condition which may require oxygen during your trip. Request a Fit to Fly letter and ask your GP or consultant to fill in the appropriate medical forms. If needed book your inflight oxygen or buy an FAA approved Portable Oxygen Concentrator in plenty of time.
With this worry out of the way, you can relax and enjoy your holiday!