If you do need supplemental oxygen, you must not only notify the airline in advance, but also make sure that you have required documentation from your doctor and arrange for in-flight oxygen.

Notify the Airline

You will need to inform the airline before your scheduled flight that you will be using oxygen. Notification policies vary from airline to airline. Most require advance notification of at least 72 hours and some require as much as several weeks.

Obtain Required Documents

To use oxygen in flight, you will need a prescription and a doctor's authorization form. Some airlines have their own form. Others require authorization on your doctor's letterhead. It should contain:

  • your doctor's name and contact information
  • the lung condition that makes oxygen necessary
  • approval for air travel
  • verification of the need for oxygen in flight
  • the required oxygen flow rate in liters per minute

Make extra copies of the forms. You will need to provide one at check-in and at the gate for each flight you will be on.

Make Arrangements for Oxygen

People who need supplemental oxygen in-flight have two options for their oxygen supply. You can rent or buy a portable oxygen concentrator (POC). This battery-powered device collects oxygen from the air and concentrates it. POCs are lightweight, can be carried through security checkpoints and don't count as carry-on luggage. In addition, if you need oxygen on land you won't need to make any additional arrangements, as you will if you purchase compressed oxygen.

Whether you already have a POC or you're renting or buying one, be sure that it has been approved by the Department of Transportation for use on airplanes. A list of approved POCs is available at the Airline Oxygen Council of America’s (AOCA) website (www.airlineoxygencouncil.org). You’'l also need to have enough battery power to cover your hours in the air as well as waiting time and unanticipated delays.

You can also purchase compressed oxygen from the airline. If you want to use an oxygen canister, some airlines make them available for passengers. Bringing and using your own canister is not an option—the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits passengers from taking their own compressed or liquid oxygen on board a plane.

So even if you use an oxygen canister at home, you'll need to purchase compressed air from the airline. Be aware, however, that many airlines do not provide compressed oxygen canisters or, if they do, they may not provide it on all flights.

One major drawback to using airline-supplied oxygen is that if you require oxygen on land, you'll need to have another source before and after your flight and during any layovers. And if you bring your own canister to the airport for use before boarding, you'll need to have someone take it away when you leave.

Resources to Help You Plan

Because each airline sets its own policies regarding the use of in-flight oxygen, you'll need to spend time researching what works best for your circumstances. Here are two online resources that offer help:

  • The Airline Oxygen Council of America (www.airlineoxygencouncil.org). The AOCA site contains summaries of airline policies as well as links to airline medical policy pages for detailed information. It also provides a list of approved POCs, links for reporting problems and a sample physician statement.
  • The National Home Oxygen Patients Association (www.homeoxygen.org/airline-travel-withoxygen). This page offers tips and advice on traveling with oxygen as well as links to companies that sell approved POCs.

    Publication Review By: Peter B. Terry, M.D., M.A.

    Published: 24 Jun 2013

    Last Modified: 24 Jun 2013