COPD and Portable Oxygen Therapy

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on February 14, 2021

Many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) need extra oxygen. Some are anxious about traveling with oxygen tanks, though, so they stay home instead of enjoying time away.

While many people do take tanks of compressed oxygen when traveling, there’s another choice. Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs) take air from the room and convert it into concentrated oxygen. Most are lightweight, compact, and unlike traditional tanks, do not need refilling.

POCs run on batteries. Some of these batteries can last more than 12 hours. POCs also have AC/DC adapters, so you can plug them into your car or any outlet.

Travel Tips

First, talk with your doctor. Ask if it’s safe for you to travel. Let the doctor know about your travel destination -- especially if you are going to higher altitudes or other countries.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Never store tanks in your car’s trunk or in direct sunlight. Keep them away from intense heat.
  • Make sure your tanks have more than enough oxygen for the whole trip and to get you back home. Or plan ahead to get refills. Your supplier can help you with this.
  • Avoid smokers.
  • Make sure your equipment works well before heading out.
  • If traveling by airline, train, bus, or cruise ship, ask about their policies on portable oxygen beforehand.


Air Travel With Oxygen

You must make arrangements ahead of time when flying. When you make your reservation, ask the airline about its policies on portable oxygen.

  • Before your trip, you need to get the airline’s permission to use oxygen. Most U.S. airlines require at least a 48-hour notice, but others need longer. Always check with your airline well before your travel date. Foreign airlines may have different requirements.
  • Find out which POCs are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). You can’t bring your POC on the plane unless your airline approves it.
  • If you don’t have an FAA-approved POC, ask if you can rent one.
  • Try to get a nonstop or direct flight to prevent worries about layovers or missing a connecting flight.
  • Some airlines may provide oxygen for a fee.
  • Ask your insurance company whether you need supplementary coverage for traveling with oxygen.
  • Get a prescription for supplemental oxygen from your physician, and keep this with you -- always. This prescription should state your medical condition and your need for in-flight oxygen and also give specifics on how long oxygen should be used and on the oxygen flow rate.
  • The airlines may have their own forms for your doctor to fill out, so be sure to get these back from your doctor in plenty of time.
  • You might need an increase in the oxygen flow rate during air travel; your doctor will know. Be sure to talk to the doctor about this so you have no discomfort breathing during the flight.
  • The airlines may require you to bring ample batteries to power your POC. Most airlines require that your batteries last 50% longer (or 3 hours longer, in the case of some airlines) than the total time of your trip -- from the time you leave your home until you get to your final destination.
  • Some airlines may allow empty tanks to be stowed, but filled ones are not allowed aboard.


Show Sources


American Lung Association: “Supplemental Oxygen.”

American College of Chest Physicians: “Traveling with Portable Oxygen.”

Airline Oxygen Council of America.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration: “Portable Oxygen.”

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