Portable oxygen rule takes flight

Thursday, April 30, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine--Oxygen patients can board any airline with an approved portable oxygen concentrator (POC) beginning May 13, but they may still encounter a few hurdles.

Not all physicians understand the need for supplemental oxygen during flight, says provider Lou Kaufmann.

“I’ve had patients say, ‘My doctor said as long as I am not exerting myself, I’ll be OK (without supplemental oxygen),’” said Kaufmann, vice president, patient/client services for Bethesda, Md.-based Roberts Home Medical. “A patient who needs oxygen on the ground needs it during flight.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) last May amended the Airline Carrier Access Act, making it mandatory for all airlines to allow passengers to board using their own approved concentrators. Prior to the ruling, it was left up to the airlines.

While there are no extra charges to bring POCs onboard - medical equipment isn’t subject to things like baggage fees - patients must have a prescription and have their doctor sign a special form required by the airlines, said provider Sandra Hoskin.

“The documentation is all provided by the manufacturer,” said Hoskin, president of Houston-based American Medical Equipment. “We keep it on file and give it to anyone who is traveling.”

Oxygen patients will have more options when it comes to flying, particularly those who live in rural areas or along airline routes that didn’t previously allow POCs onboard.

“The small airports were saying no,” said provider Lee Guay, coordinator for Helena, Mt.-based Apex Home Medical. “They didn’t have the plug-ins on the plane and some wouldn’t take it despite the battery.”

Overall, the new rule represents a huge improvement for patients, said Dr. Brent Blue, CEO and medical director for Jackson, Wyoming-based OxygenToGo.

“Nobody should be required to stay at home because they need oxygen,” he said. “That’s not acceptable in the 21st century.”