Supplemental Oxygen for PF Doesn’t Have to Be a Barrier to Travel

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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Summer is here in the Northern Hemisphere. Where I live, in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, there are three key indicators that summer has arrived: heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. It’s also a popular time for vacations and getaways.

My wife, Susan, and I have always loved to travel, and we’ve visited all seven continents. When oxygen was prescribed for me almost three years after I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, we didn’t want it to be a limiting factor for our travels. So we sought out the answers we needed to be able to travel.

Following are some of the lessons we learned.

Develop a relationship

There is an abundance of oxygen suppliers, but in my case, I was a customer of the Lincare office in Charlottesville, Virginia. I have heard a number of stories about poor service from other companies, but I am fortunate to have never experienced that. If a delivery was scheduled by Lincare, then a delivery occurred.

My supplier taught me about the equipment I was using, how to care for it, the settings on the machines, and the services available when I traveled. With several weeks’ notice, I could arrange for equipment in many areas of the U.S. This could be for stand-alone concentrators or tanks delivered to a location I would be staying. I took advantage of this service several times without being disappointed.

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Planes, trains, and ships

If you decide to travel by traditional commercial carriers, you should know there is no universal process for using oxygen. There is, however, the need to coordinate the use of oxygen equipment in advance to ensure there is no issue at the time of departure.

Airlines in the U.S. as a general rule do not allow the use of oxygen cylinders on board an aircraft. As with most rules, I am certain there are exceptions for some long-haul flights, but you should not expect them.

I typically fly United Airlines, so their process is most familiar to me. United requires a form to be signed by your physician for use of a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) in flight. There are a number of rules involved, including having sufficient battery power for your POC to cover the length of the flight, including connection time, plus three hours.

Rail travel in the U.S. is typically with Amtrak. Amtrak does allow passengers to travel with oxygen tanks and oxygen concentrators. Their policy limits the number and weight of tanks. Prior coordination with Amtrak is required.

If you decide a cruise is your perfect vacation this summer, cruise ships also allow the use of oxygen equipment. Celebrity Cruises recommends coordination in advance to understand your needs and how the equipment will arrive at the ship.

Oxygen users can also find assistance from companies such as the Special Needs Group, which provides worldwide support for oxygen travel requirements, whether by land, sea, or air.

Driving yourself

There were times when we just needed to get away for a couple of days. We would pack the home oxygen concentrator into the car, along with the tanks we might need during the trip. We would lay the tanks down on a blanket. A second blanket would be placed over the tanks and pushed between them to prevent them from rattling. Tanks should be secured so they cannot move around while being transported.

We would carry the concentrator upright in the vehicle. Fair warning: If you reach into the back seat and accidentally turn on the oxygen concentrator while it is not plugged in, prepare yourself for a very loud piercing alarm. It can be silenced by simply turning off the power switch.

Supplemental oxygen should not be a barrier

Supplemental oxygen should be an enabler allowing you to do more. Talk to your care team about your travel plans. Use supplemental oxygen to take you farther and allow you to do more.

There are so many oxygen solutions available to you. Commercial carriers make accessible travel options available for you. Consult your oxygen provider to understand the support they can provide that allows you to travel.

Make a plan

If there are travel plans in your future, don’t let your need for oxygen become a barrier. Make your plan. Search the forums section here at Pulmonary Fibrosis News for “supplemental oxygen” to find tips and hints from others.

Let your use of supplemental oxygen become a gateway that allows you to make every breath count.

Tell me about your summer travel plans and whether they include planning for supplemental oxygen. Please share in the comments below. 

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


sree avatar


Do international flights provide supplimental oxygen? Due to the longer hours it is not possible to have back up batteries for portable Poc

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Sree,
Thanks for reading my column. It is best to check with your air carrier. In the column I used United Airlines as an example I am familiar with from my travels. If you perform a simple internet search using the name of your air carrier along with the words "supplemental oxygen" you can usually find the requirements of the carrier along with the type of support they will or will not provide. You will also want to query the carrier on a specific route as the route may also dictate the support available.

Sam ...

John Melson avatar

John Melson

What are your thoughts about altitude and travel? I've been diagnosed with IPF for about a year and I am declining rapidly despite Ofev. I recently made a trip to Crater Lake Oregon (elevation 7000 feet) and got terrifically desaturated with my portable oxygenator. I have noticed that in bad weather (low barometer?) I seem to have more trouble.
Will tank oxygen overcome this? I live at 2200 feet. Should I move to a lower altitude?

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi John,
Thanks for reading my column. Without knowing how much oxygen you are currently prescribed, I will answer more generically. Most portable shoulder-carried oxygen concentrators deliver less than 2 liters per minute. Tanks deliver much more, although the higher the flow rate the shorter the tank life. I would suggest you speak with your care team regarding your travel plans. My care team discouraged me from traveling to high altitudes prior to the transplant, but they did not prevent me from traveling in general. With good planning and your care teams advice travel is possible.

Sam ...

Randall Thornton avatar

Randall Thornton

Good afternoon. Been reading you article on travel and have found it very interesting. I was diagnosed with IPF in March 2020 and have been on oxygen 24/7 everysince. I only have 1 lung left and it's not good. I first was on 4-5 l. I am now at 7-7 1/2l. My last month's test wasn't good. We are thinking of taking a road trip to the west coast this fall to visit our son and his family. We live in western Colorado near the Utah line so our altitude is about 5k. I am unable to go to Denver to visit other kids because of the Rock mountains, way to high. I have an Inogen 5 that pt out 6, supposedly, but only works good when I am just setting. What do I do for traveling out there for motel stops and then visiting for 3 days out there? I have a concentrator, but it weights a ton. I nor my wife can lift it. would appreciate any advice you could give me.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Randall,
Thanks for reading my column. Can I suggest you review the Inogen 5 Technical Manual The maximum setting of 6 on the Inogen 5 only produces about 1.26 lpm at sea level. If you are on 7 - 7.5 lpm a home-type concentrator may be your only acceptable alternative. You should also speak with your oxygen supplier to determine if they can provide you support during your travels. If you do find a good solution please come back to share it with others.

Sam ...

tom jarrett avatar

tom jarrett

I really enjoy your column Sam , and have not had a chance to read them all just yet . I was diagnosed in July 2021 and have recently had a large step down,despite Ofev . I have recently begun O2 at night and while exercising . I am going for a transplant evaluation in 2 months . If you don't mind me asking ,how old were you when you had your transplant ? From the packet I got from the UPMC center I feel I will be put on the wait and see list and have periodic re-evaluations . Thanks Tom

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Tom. I am glad you are enjoying the column. I was diagnosed in Jan 2017 at age 59 and I was transplanted at age 63 in July 2021. When you are evaluated for transplant there are typically three outcomes. Approved, not approved, or deferred. When I was first evaluated I was deferred. That was in March of 2020 when COVID was just beginning to spread around the globe. My condition took a more significant downturn in early 2021 and I was listed in March of 2021. Good luck with the evaluation. Please come back and let me know how it is going. Sam ...


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