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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
March 23, 2003

Airline Travel with Oxygen
Cheska Wheatley
In Memorium
November 30, 2003

I have COPD/emphysema in addition to inflammatory breast cancer. When I fly, I need to use supplemental oxygen due to the high altitude which makes breathing for everyone more difficult but dangerous for those with compromised lungs.

I have not heard anyone mention oxygen needs on Club-Mets-BC but I can't help but wonder if there aren't others among us for whom supplemental oxygen would be required for air travel. If you have any lung involvement, you need to check with your onc or pulmonary specialist before booking any flight.

There are only a few US airlines that provide oxygen and it is expensive. We aren't allowed to board with our own oxygen equipment but most airlines will let you ship through your equipment provided the tanks are completely emptied. Of course, they are useless to you upon arrival so arrangements must be made to have someone meet you with oxygen at your destination if you also need it on land.

When I have needed oxygen to fly, I've always had my travel agent contact the airlines medical desk and they in turn contact me and my physician since they will need a prescription for the oxygen. I usually do this a couple weeks in advance of my flight and then call a few days before the flight to be sure they have the prescription and have me listed for the oxygen. When I arrive at the airport, I also check in and make sure someone has gone out to the plane to make certain there is oxygen on board for me. Twice, they have messed up and I could not board my intended flight and was forced to wait until another plane flew in the oxygen tank and got it put on the next outgoing flight to my destination. If there is oxygen onboard as requested make sure it is turned on before the plane starts down the runway. Most of the time this has not been a problem but once the tank was not turned on and only an airline mechanic was allowed to turn it on although I could have easily done it myself.

All of this convenience costs me $75 per leg of the flight and more often than not there is not a direct flight to my destination so I end up paying $150 going and another $150 returning on top of my ticket price.

I would never fly again without requesting a wheelchair. I am fully ambulatory but between connecting flights I am without oxygen since the airports do not provide it. I am fine as long as I don't have to exert myself so the wheelchair works for me. Others might have to hire an oxygen supplier to meet their plane with a portable unit they can use between flights.

Again, I request the wheelchair through the airline medical desk at the same time I order oxygen. There is usually no problem getting a wheelchair at the curb where you are dropped off if you are with someone who is seeing you off and will push you to the security check. You will be the first to go through security so avoid standing in long lines, you also board the plane first which is when I use the planes toilet hopefully to avoid needing it during the flight.

The oxygen is usually in rows 7-9 in the overhead storage bin and your seat will be a window seat although I would prefer an aisle seat. Some people travel with their own 25 foot hose so if they need to get up to use the restroom or walk the aisles they may do so. I tried using the restroom once without oxygen on and I learned quickly never to do that again. Thought I would die before I could get back to my seat! Next time I fly, I will carry a 25 foot hose!

When you arrive at your destination, you will be met at the jetway by a porter with a wheelchair provided your request has gone through. The porter knows who they are to meet. Once my wheelchair was not there and like a fool I tried to walk the jetway to get out of the heat. Not a good idea! Best to stay seated in the plane after letting the flight attendant know you are waiting for a wheelchair.

Once your wheelchair arrives, the porter will push you to your connecting gate. Tell the porter you need to use a restroom and they will take you to a private handicapped restroom so you again avoid waiting in lines. Some airports will allow you to keep the wheelchair during your layover but some will deposit you in a chair and come back later to help you board your next flight. If you are flying alone, you may want to make a food stop before giving up the wheelchair.

I recently ran into a situation where my first flight was delayed leaving me only 5 minutes to make my connecting flight. When I got to the top of the jetway they told me my plane had already left and I was rescheduled the next morning. I told them I could not do that without oxygen and got whisked away to their special services lounge where someone checked and found out the plane had not departed and in fact they were waiting for my arrival since they knew someone on that flight needed oxygen. I made it to the plane along with 15 fellow passengers who had also been told they were stranded overnight. They were huffing and puffing from running the length of the airport while I was sitting comfy in the wheelchair and breathing easily! I had many people thank me for being on that flight and saving them alot of inconvenience!

Airlines aren't obligated to provide for medical needs but the few that do are for the most part excellent but like any other service we receive, you must be proactive and make sure the services are in place that you require and speak up very loudly if they are not!

March 24, 2003
Cheska Wheatley

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