Traveling, especially by airline, is something that most people take for granted. As I’m shuttling among the different industry shows, I frequently hear passengers grumbling about security lines, long waits, flight delays and the additional charges airlines have implemented. Heck, sometimes that person is me! How much are a snack pack and a blanket running these days? After listening to providers and industry experts talk about what it takes to travel with oxygen, however, I’m beginning to be thankful for such minor inconveniences.
Truth is, oxygen patients have many more hurdles to jump through and add-on costs. For example, did you know that if a passenger needs an airline to provide supplemental oxygen for a trip, that cost could be as much as $200 per leg of a flight? If you have one transfer, that’s $400 one way on top of an already high-priced fare.
Typically, oxygen patients aren’t afforded such luxuries as cheap fares. But even if a patient pays the $200 per leg, he or she would not have oxygen at the airport, during layovers or at the destination city. As you can imagine, portable oxygen concentrators have been a godsend to patients used to lugging around heavy oxygen tanks and dealing with airlines for supplemental oxygen. Still, a POC has its own hassles that also outpace our typical travel headaches.
A POC is a carry-on, so patients must balance what they take on a plane. Also, the patient must worry about having enough batteries to sustain oxygen usage for the entire flight. And prior to May 2009, the patient also had to comply with the regulations of individual airlines. As of May 13, however, traveling will be a little easier.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) finally recognizes that oxygen patients have a disability and takes steps to rectify the myriad policies that represented discriminatory hurdles for oxygen patients. Going forward, all airlines will have to abide by the FAA rules, which will make it much easier for patients to fly. The bonus of this policy is that oxygen patients now have a voice. As Bob Fary, Inogen’s vice president of strategic alliances, Goleta, Calif., put it: “If the patient has a complaint, then they lodge that complaint to the airline and the airline has to report that complaint to the government and report the resolution to that complaint. It’s really quite a serious matter.” With clear guidance, a policy that ensures equality and the help of some hardworking respiratory providers and therapists, traveling might once again be a joy for oxygen patients. I look forward to the day when I hear an oxygen patient packing a POC complain about the price of headphones!