Feds may relax travel O2 regs

Saturday, April 30, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators appear poised to relax restrictions governing the use of medical oxygen on airplanes, and for Dexter Shultz, 72, the move can't come too soon.
Because of problems he's had flying with his wife, who has COPD, Shultz has been on a mission to change the current rules that don't require airlines to provide oxygen to respiratory patients. The rules also forbid respiratory patients from carrying their own oxygen equipment onboard planes.
"We are being discriminated against," said Shultz, who has been in regular contact with D.C. lawmakers attempting to convince them that the current restrictions need to be relaxed. He's even launched a Web site (www.oxygeninflight.org) intended to educate other travelers to the difficulties of flying with oxygen.
Industry watchers expected the Federal Aviation Administration in April to relax the current regulation governing the use of oxygen on board plans.
Under the existing rule, airlines can provide oxygen, but to do so must undergo an expensive certification process. Many budget airlines have declined to spend money on this, which in turn narrows the choice of airlines for respiratory patients. If industry watchers are right, the FAA plans to: 1) eliminate the certification process; and 2) allow airlines to permit the use of portable oxygen concentrators onboard aircraft. It would be up to individual airlines to decide if they want to provide the concentrator or allow the patient to bring his own.
(Because regulators can't monitor the contents of oxygen cylinders, it's unlikely they'll allow passengers to bring aboard their own tanks, say industry watchers.)
Ideally, the airlines will opt to allow patients to bring their own concentrators on board, said Joe Priest, president/COO for Airsep, which makes a portable concentrator. For providers, this would eliminate the logistical challenge of having to arrange oxygen for patients between connections and at the destination. The airlines could exit the oxygen business, which they don't like, and patients would gain freedom, say Priest and others.
Shultz likes the sound of that.
"All airlines operate, as does all public transportation, under the DOT," he said. "If the DOT says you won't discriminate for any reason and then you turn around and say you don't provide medical oxygen for airline passengers, that is contradictory and discriminatory."