how to travel with someone who has COPD

How To Travel With Someone Who Has COPD (According to Experts)?

When you have complications related to breathing, there are certain precautions you need to take when traveling. Knowing how to travel with someone who has COPD can be very helpful in many situations.

Whether planning a vacation or just a quick getaway out of town, everything you need to know about traveling with someone who has COPD is in this article.

Do People With COPD Need A Companion When Traveling?

Technically, patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can travel alone if they want to. The disease doesn't have to confine them, but it is always recommended to travel with a companion. They can help with emergencies and anything related to your supplemental oxygen when you are far from home. 

A travel companion is highly advisable for COPD patients during trips, even if they believe that they are capable of handling COPD on their own. If something unwanted happens during the trip, at least there will be a friend or a relative there, if for nothing other than moral support. 

15 Things to Keep In Mind When Traveling With Someone Who Has COPD

Traveling with someone with COPD is not always hard, but it helps to know what to do in case of an emergency. Here are some tips to remember before the trip:

1. Schedule a checkup

doctor checking up person with copd

This step is more of a preparation before actually leaving. It is essential to have the person with COPD checked in with a healthcare provider to discuss the possible risk factors. You can discuss your plans with them, and they will tell you if they will be safe for the patient.

These are some of the things that you need to clarify with the doctor:

  • Is it safe for them to travel?
  • Will the place you plan to travel to affect their oxygen requirements?
  • How soon can they travel after going through lung surgery?

They can also discuss the necessary precautions they need to take before traveling. It is always good to make sure they are fit to travel to avoid problems when they are miles away from your comfort zone. 

2. Bring Medical Records

If the person with COPD you are traveling with needs in-flight medical equipment to help with their breathing problems, the equipment must pass multiple safety checks. Most airlines must check portable oxygen concentrators before allowing them for plane use. If they do not have a record supporting their medical need for the machines, it might be a problem and cause delays.

You can ask their health provider to provide you with a copy of their medical records and a letter that states the person is fit to travel. It can also be a helpful tool to help medical professionals on-site when something happens to them. Medical records should include your supplemental oxygen prescription and current medications. 

3. Familiarize yourself with their medical equipment

Even if they do not explicitly ask you to help with their case, it would still help if you knew their medical equipment and their storage when they needed it. This includes their nebulizer, COPD inhalers, and a portable oxygen concentrator

4. Review their insurance policy

Many things may happen while you are on the road, such as losing medication. Fortunately, some insurance policies cover their refills in another country or state.

You should ask your companion with COPD about their insurance policy provisions and what else you can do in case of emergency. It is best to have a plan rather than hope for the best at all times. 

Traditional medical care is only sometimes covered outside of the country, but some supplementary plans include international travel in their coverage.

If the person with COPD you are traveling with is a family member, check in with their insurance company provider first before traveling. Bring a copy of their insurance card in your checked-in baggage and carry-on.

5. Stock up on medicines and supplies

Depending on where you are going, you can only sometimes be sure that there will be a place where you can get the medicines required for COPD. Bring extra and put it in a properly labeled container to prevent misuse. 

If they use an inhaler, it should be placed in its original container, including its prescription label. It should be on their carry-on in case the luggage gets lost or delayed.

6. Contact medical care at your destination

When traveling to an unfamiliar destination, it's best to have immediate access to a healthcare provider, even for a quick checkup in the middle of your vacation. You can always consult your doctor for a recommendation if they know a reliable hospital in that area.

One of the common comorbidities of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is cardiac disease, which can be severe if not tended immediately.

You can get them the address and contact information, and you should put them in one folder alongside the person with COPD's medical files tucked away in a carry-on. If their healthcare provider cannot recommend anyone, you can get this information from their health insurance provider. 

7. Traveling with oxygen

If you are traveling by plane to get to your chosen destination, the cabin pressure of an aircraft can cause  problems for a person with COPD. Flying at high altitudes may lead to hypoxemia (or low oxygen levels in the blood) and trigger other respiratory complications.

All people with COPD are at risk of these issues, so undergoing a pre-flight assessment like a hypoxic challenge test, altitude simulation test, and forced expiratory volume is essential. It would also help to have their saturation measured by pulse oximetry during the flight to keep up with their oxygen level.

If they don't usually use supplemental oxygen, they should discuss it with their healthcare provider and see if traveling with oxygen would help their condition.

If you are going to fly with COPD patients, assure them that it will be fine and help them with the necessary measures needed pre-flight so there will be no delay on your end. 

8. Keep up with vaccinations

If your travel will be international, cross-check the person with COPD's vaccinations with  the list of required vaccinations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and ensure they are updated. The official CDC website contains a comprehensive worldwide map that includes each country's travel requirements. 

Whether you are going out of the country or just within the states, it is advisable to consider getting a flu shot. This significantly lowers your risk of catching the flu upon being in close contact with other people. 

If you can, bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands frequently, especially after touching public surfaces. 

9. Rest and eat well

To become fit for traveling, preparing the body is essential. Encourage the person with COPD to eat healthier food, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. This may help lessen fatigue and jet lag and increase their energy during the getaway. As a result, all of you will be able to enjoy the time more instead of it becoming stressful.

10. Contact the airline in advance

If you are going to travel by plane, be sure to contact the airline before booking your ticket to inquire about their available oxygen support on board and if they allow portable oxygen concentrators. Some airlines do not allow the use of personal POC and instead provide their own equipment on the plane. 

You can also ask for seats with access to power outlets if the person with COPD has to charge their machine in flight. 

Remember that not all portable oxygen concentrators are allowed on the plane. You should check in with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration first for the list of FAA-approved portable oxygen machines. They will also need an oxygen prescription from a healthcare provider before accessing a portable oxygen concentrator.

Making arrangements before the flight can significantly decrease your waiting time in the queue and even help with the necessary items they will need on board.

11. Create a checklist

Before traveling, you should keep a checklist of everything needed to make the COPD patient feel safe and secure. The list should include medications, medical equipment, and medical care provider contacts.

You should also double-check your bags so nothing important gets forgotten before and after the vacation. 

12. Consider direct flights

People with medical conditions, especially chronic lung disease, should consider direct flights instead of connecting flights. This way, you can spend less time in high altitudes and get to your desired destination faster.

Having connected flights requires making arrangements for two different sets of planes, and that could be stressful for COPD patients. It would be better if you could find direct flights that work for everybody. Also, keep yourself ready for the possible symptoms during air travel so you can ask for help immediately. 

13. Request for a wheelchair

When making travel reservations to your chosen airline, consider asking for a wheelchair for the COPD patient. Sometimes, it could be a long walk to the gate, and your portable oxygen concentrator would run longer. There could also be a long wait during the security check-in.

Having a wheelchair can help them feel comfortable whenever they go and go through security quicker. If you were not able to make direct flights, this could also help them in connecting flights. 

14. Research local emergency numbers

Keep a list of emergency numbers you might need at any time, preferably the locally available numbers in the destination you will be going to. You should do prior research on the nearby hospitals, healthcare providers, and family contacts. The list can also include a number of your hotel, airline, cruise line, train, Airbnb, and any number that might be important. 

15. Enjoy – Live life even with COPD

COPD can be worrisome, as it is a severe disease. However, it is still essential to take the time to enjoy your traveling and not overthink your companion's condition. The primary purpose of going away is to have a break from stress, and you don't want to bring that along with you during the vacation.

You can be cautious while still being able to enjoy the time with your friends or family.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is high altitude good for COPD?

High altitude can make the symptoms of COPD worse. The disease's most common manifestations are wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Going to higher elevations can contribute to breathing difficulties as the amount of oxygen in the air decreases.

Fortunately, supplemental oxygen can help in this situation. Having a portable oxygen concentrator when going to places with a higher altitude can help prevent oxygen deficiency in the body.

Most portable oxygen concentrators are FAA-approved, meaning you can bring them on airplanes without a problem to help you breathe comfortably at an altitude of around 5,000 to 8,000 feet.

What is the best altitude for COPD?

The most stable altitude for people with COPD is no more than 6,500 feet above sea level. Even altitudes of 5,000 feet can trigger COPD symptoms such as difficulty breathing. 

The effect of altitude also depends on the severity of your condition. If you have COPD and are planning to stay at a higher altitude for a long time, a portable oxygen concentrator will be extremely helpful.

Is portable oxygen good for COPD?

Yes, portable oxygen concentrators are suitable for people with COPD. Supplemental oxygen can help them breathe better and minimize their symptoms. They can also help when the person is going to higher altitudes, such as driving through mountains and boarding planes.

Even if you are not traveling by plane or going to places with higher altitudes, portable oxygen concentrators are still helpful in managing the symptoms of COPD.

Check out our top recommendations for the best portable oxygen concentrators for high altitude.

Be Better Prepared When Traveling

That's everything you have to know about traveling with someone with COPD. It can be overwhelming sometimes, especially with all the medications and equipment they need to bring, but support is enough to make them feel safe in your presence.



Written by Andy Flynn

 Andy Flynn - co-founder sprylyfe and arya biomed

Andy Flynn is the founder of Sprylyfe, the leading retailer of portable oxygen concentrators in the United States. He also co-founded ARYA BioMed.

Get to know him on LinkedIn.

Medically Reviewed By Aaron Gravely, M.D.

 Aaron Gravely MD, researcher, medical doctor

Aaron L. Gravely, M.D. is a professional medical writer and physician-scientist with over 8 years of experience in healthcare and medical research.

Get to know him on LinkedIn or read his published works.

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