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Our Service Begins With You

At MedFlight911, we offer this promise to each and every one of our valued clients: "Our Service Begins with You."

That means from the moment you call our office we will:

  • Go above and beyond to help and serve you.
  • Make the process simple, easy and worry-free.
  • Take care of every detail so you don't have to.
  • Act as your partner and advocate throughout the process.
  • Treat your patient / loved one like family.
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April 08, 2014

Flying with Oxygen: Air Ambulance vs. Commercial Airline

medflight911-traveling-with-oxygenIf you or a loved one has breathing difficulties and needs to travel with supplemental oxygen, you face special hurdles when planning a trip. Not only can factors such as the change in elevation and cabin pressure make breathing more difficult, but airlines also have strict rules about bringing oxygen on board. Depending on your health and the amount of oxygen you need, you may need to travel via ground ambulance or air ambulance rather than a commercial flight.

There are a number of restrictions regarding oxygen on commercial flights. Only "Airline Approved" oxygen concentrators are permitted on commercial flights; you will need to check with airline's reservations or the airline's website for a list of their approved concentrators. Most airline approved concentrators are capable of a maximum of 3 liters/per minute constant flow or 5 liters "pulse" (intermittent) flow. If the patient is already on oxygen at 2-3 liters/minute at home, once at an altitude of 30,000-40,000 feet, there will not be enough reserve to meet any additional oxygen demand and possibly resulting in discomfort for the patient or trouble breathing. You also must bring 1.5 times the battery requirements for your flight time and oxygen rate. If your concentrator batteries are capable of providing power for 2 liters/min for an hour and your total flight time is four (4) hours, you will need 6 batteries. If you need more oxygen or your flight is longer than that, you'll have to find another way to travel. But that's not all.

Airlines require passengers who need supplemental oxygen to produce a letter or document from their doctor verifying the need for oxygen, and to notify the airline in advance of their trip. Typically, you must have your physician complete and submit to the airline's medical department (up to 72 hours in advance of your flight), a "MEDIF" or "fit-to-fly" form, and have a confirmation from the airline of acceptance. (This form can usually be found on the airlines website).

In some cases, you can't bring your own oxygen unit on board and will need to make arrangements for oxygen delivery at the airport. An airline may even charge an additional fee to passengers who require oxygen while in-flight. Because the restrictions vary based on airline and destination, we strongly recommend checking with your carrier well in advance of your trip to make sure you understand what you need to do to prepare. (You can see the guidelines from American Airlines here, and the guidelines from United Airlines here.) Fortunately, you don't necessarily have to manage all this on your own. A commercial medical escort can help you manage travel when you need supplemental oxygen, providing valuable support on the day of travel.

If travel via commercial airline is impossible (which may be the case for patients with conditions like advanced lung cancer or cystic fibrosis), there are still options. While commercial airlines only allow small portable oxygen concentrators on board, an air ambulance can accommodate a large "M" cylinder oxygen tank, which can provide 15 liters of oxygen per minute for nearly five hours. But because the canisters are so large – about the size of a 10-year-old child – the air ambulance can't accommodate more than one, and a stop may be scheduled to refill the canister during a longer flight. For example, MedFlight911 recently arranged an international medical transport from South America to the U.S. for a patient who needed supplemental oxygen. The flight time was nearly 10 hours, so we had to schedule a stop to both refuel and refill the oxygen.

Another option for patients who need oxygen may be ground transport via medical motor coach. Like an air ambulance, a motor coach carries the oxygen concentrators capable of up to 20 liters/minute that some patients need..

The bottom line: Even patients who need large amounts of supplemental oxygen can travel, though they will probably need to make special arrangements. And if you need oxygen and are planning a commercial flight, make sure you check in with your airline in advance. There could be restrictions that make it difficult – or even impossible – for you to fly. In that case, an air ambulance or medical motor coach could be your best option.

Are you interested in learning more about MedFlight911's international air ambulance services? Give us a call at 888-359-1911 or get a no-obligation air medical transport quote here.


MedFlight911: Get your Air Medical transport started right now - Request a Transfer.



  • J. S. CA

    Dear WONDERFUL folks, First of all our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for the professional and compassionate way in which you have embraced our inquiries into your services. Thank you for all
  • R. N. Venezula

    One more time I would really like to thank you and your crew for all the help getting my father to Houston.
  • F. Z. CA

    We appreciated MedFlight911's professional service from beginning to end. You delivered a high-quality, smooth and friendly service not only to my father but also to our whole family.
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    Just a note to say thanks for all that you did for our family this past week. MedFlight911 went way over board in helping with JT's transport.
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  • Katlin E. OR | Patient

    MedFlight911, I wanted to thank all of you for helping me and my twin boys with our medical transports. Although the trip felt like it was just minutes in length,
  • J. T. KY

    MedFlight911 is fantastic! There is a genuine interest in the customer and the family. Communication was informative.
  • S. L. CA

    Thank you for your hard work and tireless effort in getting my father back to CA. I truly appreciated MedFlight911's capabilities in getting him safely back to his home.
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