My doctors tell me that I can no longer fly unless I have oxygen available. How do I alert an airline to my special needs?
Most domestic airlines that provide what is known as supplemental oxygen need 48 hours' notice, although some say they will try to accommodate passengers who give less notice. But beyond mere notification, airlines generally require a letter from a doctor declaring that the passenger is in stable health and can fly and stating how many liters per minute of oxygen are needed.
The reason some passengers require oxygen, which is customarily provided through tubing into the passenger's nostrils, is that the air pressure in an airliner is about what one would find at an altitude of about 8,000 feet. Because passengers are not permitted to supply their own oxygen, the airlines do -- but are not required to.
Some airlines offer a limited choice of rates of oxygen flow. So if a doctor calls for, say, 6 liters per minute and an airline's equipment provides only 2 or 4 liters per minute, the passenger -- depending on the doctor's assessment -- may have to take another airline, assuming another carrier serves the same route.
Mary Gilmartin, a clinical nurse specialist and respiratory therapist at the National Jewish Hospital for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, said that while precautionary measures might vary from case to case, passengers requiring oxygen were typically directed by physicians to avoid doing anything involving exertion -- which might mean staying seated for the entire flight.
A change of plane is best avoided since it may entail the expense of an additional unit or units of oxygen. When taking an airline that charges for oxygen per flight coupon, which is a ticket for a segment of a flight, the rate remains the same no matter how much oxygen is used. Not so if the rate is per tank, which can get to be quite costly.
Here are the charges and the flow rates (in liters per minute) for oxygen provided by some airlines.
American: $50 a tank or bottle. Flow rate: 2 or 4; at the 4-liter rate, it lasts three hours.
Continental: $50 per segment. Flow rate: depends on passenger need.
Delta: $50 minimum charge, which covers two bottles; $25 for each additional bottle. Flow rate: 2 to 8. A passenger requiring 4 liters a minute would need two bottles, and they would last a total of one hour 14 minutes.
Northwest: $75 per flight coupon. Flow rate: 2 to 8.
TWA: $75 per leg, which covers two bottles; $35 for each additional bottle. Flow rate: 2 or 4; at the 4-liter rate, one bottle lasts 40 or 45 minutes.
United: $50 per coupon, 1 to 8.
USAir: $50 per unit. Flow rate: 2, 4 or 6; at the 4-liter rate, it lasts 106 minutes.
Ask your travel agent to issue the minimum number of flight coupons. For example, Northwest's Flight 882 from La Guardia to Tampa, which stops in Detroit, requires only a single coupon. If an agent writes a coupon for each leg of the trip, there is a $75 oxygen charge for each coupon.
One brochure about supplemental oxygen is the American Association for Respiratory Care's "Traveling With Oxygen." It covers trips by plane, ship, train and bus. It is free from the association, 11030 Ables Lane, Dallas, Texas 75229; (214) 243-2272, fax, (214) 484-2720. Another is "Airline Travel With Oxygen" by Gail Livingstone, an American Lung Association volunteer who uses supplemental oxygen. It is available free from the American Lung Association of Washington, 2625 Third Avenue, Seattle, Wash. 98121; (800) 732-9339 or (206) 441-5100, fax (206) 441-3277.
Pub Date: 8/11/96