There are extra considerations when you need daytime ventilation delivered either noninvasively or invasively with a tracheostomy.
Before you consider travelling, talk with your doctor and durable medical equipment provider, so you understand how to prepare your equipment before you fly. On commercial aircraft, the cabin altitude must be maintained at 8,000 ft (2,400 m) or less. When talking with your doctor make sure to discuss if the cabin pressurization is going to have an effect on your breathing and what you need to do to compensate. You might need supplemental oxygen.
ResMed, Manufacturer of BiPAP machines, has a general pre travel checklist for ventilator dependent individuals:
- Keep a copy of your prescription with you at all times. In case of a malfunction or emergency, you’ll have a copy of the exact settings for your ventilator.
- Pack all supplies needed for the ventilator to function throughout your trip. It is also helpful to pack any product manuals you need so you can troubleshoot any issues on the trip.
- Be sure all settings and circuits are set up according to your prescription before you leave. Include a spare circuit in your packed supplies.
- Check that you have components for external power, including any power converters you may need.
- Fully charge all batteries before leaving. Pack additional batteries for your trip as well.
- See if there is a home medical equipment provider near your destination. You can also check with your insurance provider to see who is in-network in case your equipment needs servicing while traveling.
- Be sure that your traveling companions understand how to operate your ventilator and make any necessary adjustments.
ResMed also has a set of recommendations specific to air travel:
- Call your airline and ask about their policies. Request assistance with boarding the plane, if needed.
- Contact TSA and ask about how to best prepare for security checks. Ask about your specific equipment and any considerations you may need to be aware of.
- You may need to provide a written explanation for why you are traveling with a ventilator. Your airline will have medical forms for your physician to complete that you will need to bring with you. It will state the need for your equipment and your medical clearance for travel.
- You may also need to bring documentation that your ventilator is approved for travel. Here is a travel compliance letter for all ResMed devices that are FAA compliant.
- Prepare for any technical problems by bringing spare circuits (tubing connections), user guides and being prepared to handle any issues in-flight.
- If your flight is within 72 hours, contact TSA Cares (855) 787-2227 to request assistance. TSA Cares assistance is only available for help through the screening checkpoint. If you need in-flight assistance or wheelchair assistance from the curb to the flight, please contact your airline.
You will need to be able to prove to the airline that your ventilator is FAA compliant. Most ventilator companies have travel compliance letters similar to the one mentioned by ResMed. You will want a printed version of the compliance letter to go with all of the other documentation that you need to maintain for a flight. It is best to contact the airline 48 hours in advance of traveling and speak to their accessibility specialists—each airline has a slightly different name for these specialists—to make sure you have everything in order to fly with your ventilator.
Probably the largest concern when flying with the ventilator is the ability to access electrical power for continuous operation. This can be a bit tricky as many ventilators take their power from the power wheelchair that you are going to be separated from.
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you will be able to access electrical power on the airplane. You will have to contact the airline to find out if the flight you are on has electrical outlets available or if special arrangements need to be made. Airlines recommend bringing a sufficient number of batteries that can power your ventilator for the duration of the flight plus at least three extra hours minimum. Beyond that you should also bring with manually operated backup systems to keep you ventilated.
Thank you to the author of this webpage, Jacob Gapko. Jacob is 45 years old with Duchenne. He uses a power wheelchair and non-invasive ventilation 24/7. He has a BS, an MLIS, and is a specialist. Jacob has an incredible passion for helping our DMD community. He can be reached at Jacob.Gapko@FamilyFriendsAndDuchenne.org