ADVICE FOR AIR TRAVEL WITH A LUNG CONDITION

Traveling by air has become all too common these days but for some it is still a difficult
experience.

For people traveling with any form of  lung condition, flying can be a very stressful and worrying time.  This is because the air pressure in an aircraft is lower than the air pressure at sea level. This reduced pressure means that being in an aircraft is like being up a mountain of about 6 - 8000 feet.

At the cruising altitude of most aircraft, peoples' blood oxygen levels fall but to the average person this has no ill effect on them at all.
However some people will feel a breathlessness and this will be made worse if you already have an existing lung disorder. This extra drop in blood oxygen can make people feel discomfort, struggle to breathe, nauseous and tired.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’LL BE AT RISK?

As a guide , if you can walk 100 metres without needing oxygen , at a steady pace and without feeling breathless or needing to stop then it is unlikely you will be troubled by the reduced pressure in an aircraft.
However there are several issues to take into account and you may need to talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner to determine whether supplementary oxygen is necessary for your flight.

Please note that you maybe at risk if:

  • you have had health issues after flying in the past
  • you have been in hospital recently with heart or lung problems
  • you have ever suffered from a clot in your legs, veins or lungs.

WHAT ASSISTANCE IS AVAILABLE AT THE AIRPORT?

Airlines and UK airports are required by law to assist passengers from the airport entrance onwards to the departure gate and into their aircraft seats. 

This law is is applicable in all EU countries including Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Leichtenstein and is for all arrivals, departures and anyone transiting  onwards to another country.

You should inform your flight company of your needs at least 48 hours before traveling and on arrival at the airport look for the Special Assistance Area.

CAN I TAKE OXYGEN ONBOARD WITH ME?

If you have your own POC (portable oxygen concentrator) it will be possible to take this onboard with you but the airline will need to be informed in advance and medical clearance granted. Some airlines will be happy to supply their own oxygen but again medical clearance needs to be given and a charge might be levied for this.

Alternatively companies like MEDICAL REPATRIATIONS can apply for clearance on your behalf and can supply POC’S and medical escorts if that is what is required. Again there will be a charge for this service.

Different airlines have different policies so it is vital to check in advance before traveling and give them as much time and information as possible.

Please also be aware that certain airlines will be happy to provide oxygen in the air but will not be responsible for your ground oxygen. This is particularly important if you are transiting somewhere and need oxygen between flights. Also if you need oxygen between arriving at the airport and getting onboard. Airlines will not be responsible for the oxygen requirements for this part of your journey.

Please be aware that some airports are at high altitude and although you did not need oxygen at your point of departure you may need it on arrival.

MAKING YOUR TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS.

Once you have agreement from your airline that you are fit to fly with the necessary medical equipment, it is advisable to get this in writing. This agreement will help you negotiate past  security screening and allow you to carrying medical equipment onboard. This is also the case for other items of medical equipment that you may need with you e.g. nebulisers, Cpap machines and monitoring kit. Any equipment must be battery operated and you will not be allowed to use this during take off and landing. It is also advisable to check your specific airport as as some have individual regulations about dry cell batteries and some forbid nebulisers completely. This can be mostly overcome by using your inhaler with a spacer which should be as effective as a nebuliser.

It should also be stated that the longer the flight the greater the risk due to the effects of sitting still for long periods without much exercise. There is however no extra risk due to chronic lung disease but it is advisable to speak to your health care professional who may feel it prudent to prescribe a blood thinner for your journey.

SHOULD I HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE?

It is vital that if you intend to travel abroad you take out adequate travel insurance. It is also important that you tell your travel insurer a complete medical history of diagnosis,medications, hospital admissions, GP and hospital appointments and whether you are on the waiting list for any other admission or procedure. Failure to disclose any of the above information may nullify your policy. Do read the small print and make sure your policy also covers repatriation costs as well as any possible hospital admission. Repatriation can be the most expensive part of any claim but is not automatically covered on every policy.

If you are in any doubt about your fitness or worried about flying abroad, visit your doctor in good time to and ask if they feel you are indeed fit to fly.  You may also ask for a medical letter detailing your condition and listing your medications to take with you. Remember always keep this in your hand luggage so it is available at all times.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • Drink plenty of water onboard your flight.
  • Try and get up and move about on the flight, the longer the flight the more you should move.
  • Avoid alcohol on the plane.
  • Ask for assistance at the airport if you need it.
  • If you are at all worried before hand, contact your doctor.
  • If you are traveling with medical equipment, check with your airline.
  • Always Always Always have travel Insurance.
  • Never fail to disclose everything to Insurance company.
  • If traveling in Europe remember your EHIC card.