If we had to decide who has the most difficult time arranging travel plans that meet their disability requirements, without a doubt, it would be oxygen users. Airlines, cruise ships and trains all have different, often contradictory guidelines, and unlike traveling with a wheelchair or service animal, extra fees are common and legal. In the hope to alleviate, or at least prepare oxygen users for the hoops they'll have to jump through in order to travel, this article will lay out the current maze of oxygen regulations and how best to navigate them.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forbids the use of privately supplied oxygen onboard commercial flights. This means that passengers requiring oxygen during their flights must use oxygen supplied by the particular airline which they are flying. However, the FAA has made things even more difficult by not requiring airlines to make medical oxygen available; it is up to the discression of each individual airline whether they provide this service. Currently, all major US carriers do supply medical oxygen, but with caveats attached.
Each airline's policy is slightly different, but as a general rule, requests for in-flight oxygen must be made with, at least, 2 to 7 days advance notice. This request must be accompanied by the name, phone number, and almost always, a letter from your physician confirming your need for oxygen while traveling. Once approved, the airline will charge an extra fee to cover the cost of the oxygen they provide.
Airlines do not provide oxygen for in-terminal use. If you are making a connection, or need to spend time at an airport before or after a flight, those oxygen arrangements must be made through an outside supplier. Some airport first aid offices do have oxygen available, but again, non-emergency arrangements should be made in advance.
Airlines can transport your personal oxygen equipment, provided it meets certain packaging and labeling requirements set by the individual carrier. These requirements, and notification that you'll be bringing oxygen equipment, should be discussed with the airline as early as possible.
As difficult as airline regulations make flying with oxygen, they are nothing compared to the lack of standardized rules with regard to using oxygen aboard a cruise ship. Each cruise line, and indeed sometimes ships within a cruise line, can have slightly different requirements for passengers who require oxygen.
Without listing the specific requirements of every ship afloat, here are the most prevalent guidelines involved with shipboard oxygen.
Before making a reservation, potential passengers need to get a letter from their physician describing their fitness for travel, the oxygen dosage required and a statement attesting to the fact that they require medical oxygen. Your next step is to contact the cruise line's medical department in advance of the cruise so that your medical issues can be evaluated. If approved for travel by the cruise line, you may then proceed with your reservations.
You will be required to arrange with both an oxygen supplier and the cruise line, the delivery and onboard storage of enough oxygen to last the entire trip. Finally, shore excursions will involve yet another set of arrangements for the delivery of oxygen to your various ports of call; oxygen from the ship usually cannot accompany you ashore.
Comparatively easy, train travel on Amtrak requires little more than advance notice. Amtrak also spells out their regulations quite well, leaving little ambiguity.
With advance notice to the reservation agent, Amtrak will be sure to provide space for your tank. You must provide a battery-backup power source which should also be brought to the reservation agent's attention. In addition, you must advise the conductor that you are carrying oxygen when you board the train.
Oxygen equipment must meet certain safety requirements and cannot rely solely on train-provided electrical power. Oxygen tanks and associated equipment must be Underwriter's Laboratory (U.L.) or Factory Mutual (F.M.) listed. Each tank and its associated equipment must not weigh more than 75 pounds (34 kilograms) per unit. A two-tank system (maximum 75 pounds per tank) or a six-tank system (maximum 20 pounds-or 9 kilograms-per tank) is authorized only if the tanks can be separated and handled individually. No more than two 75-pound or six 20-pound tanks are permitted on board per passenger.
Amtrak requires that oxygen tanks be secured on board. Any wheels fastened to the tanks must be removed while on board.
All equipment that requires the use of on-board electrical power must have at least a 12-hour backup supply of oxygen that does not require the use of on-board electrical power and conforms to all other restrictions. Power interruptions of varying durations can be expected throughout the trip. It is also important to bring at least 20 percent more oxygen than the trip should require, to cover possible delays or disruptions.
If you are unable to bring enough oxygen, you will need to arrange with oxygen supply companies to resupply you at en route stations. Check with a reservation sales agent to be sure that your train is stopping at those stations long enough to allow for the oxygen delivery.
Using or transporting oxygen systems through any car that has a smoking area is prohibited. It is also prohibited in or near any smoking area in a station. Because of this, if passing through a smoking area is unavoidable, you may not carry the oxygen with you.
Travel Destinations and Transfer Points
Often, your means of transportation requires that you make separate arrangements for oxygen once you've arrived at your destination, or during transfer points such as changing planes or while participating in shore excursions. To make arrangements for oxygen in these circumstances, start with your local supplier. National chains usually can assist by contacting regional offices to make the arrangements. Many local dealers belong to a network of oxygen providers and can also assist with the arrangements. Internationally, a company called TravelMed (800-878-3627 or 877-878-3627) can make oxygen deliveries in most countries.