Airlines take a liking to portable concentrators

Sunday, December 4, 2005

YARMOUTH, Maine - It didn't take the airlines long to embrace a new federal rule that makes it easier for oxygen users to travel onboard commercial airlines.

Beginning Dec. 1, Delta Airlines began accepting the Inogen One portable concentrator for customers' onboard use. On Nov. 22, Midwest Airlines began allowing oxygen patients to bring aboard the Inogen One and AirSep's LifeStyle portable concentrator.

"We're real excited, but the people who are most excited are the patients," said Bob Fary, Inogen's vice president of sales. "(We've received) a wave of e-mails from patients expressing their happiness and excitement to be self sufficient."

On July 12, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a rule that allows for the first time ever--but does not require--airlines to let patients travel with portable oxygen concentrators during all phases of flight, including take-off and landing. The rule took effect Aug. 11. Since then, numerous airlines have embraced the rule and allowed oxygen patients to fly with their own portable oxygen concentrators.

Previously, many airlines didn't provide oxygen because it's expensive and beyond their scope of expertise. That meant and still means that oxygen patients have limited and often inconvenient flight options. That appears, however, to be changing. Since the FAA issued the rule in July, in addition to Delta and Midwest Air, the following airlines now allow patients to travel with either the Inogen One or LifeStyle: Northwest Airlines, US Airways, America West, Air France and Qantas.

Officials at AirSep and Inogen expect more airlines to embrace the technology over the coming months.

Allowing patients to bring their own oxygen onboard also benefits providers, who face a logistical nightmare arranging oxygen for patients between connections and at destinations.

Currently, only Inogen and AirSep make portable concentrators approved by the FAA for airline travel. At some point, however, the FAA plans to develop generic performance standards, and if new products meet these standards, patients will be able to use them onboard commercial airlines.

A proposed rule moving through the U.S. Department of Transportation would make it mandatory rather than optional for airlines to allow patients to travel with their own portable concentrators. The DOT extended the comment period for that proposal from November to January 2005.