By: Lauri Leadley, CCSH, RPSGT- Clinical Sleep Educator|Sleep Coach
One question that is commonly asked by sleep apnea patients who are required to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to sleep is, “how can I travel with this equipment?”
Being required to use a CPAP machine every night in their own home can be overwhelming (in the beginning, at least) for some patients, so, it’s understandable how the idea of traveling with the equipment can be more than a little unnerving. However, this doesn’t have to be the case! Traveling with a CPAP machine, especially with all the newer technologies, is a lot easier than you think.
This is our advice for traveling with your CPAP equipment:
Planning and Packing
Traveling with your CPAP equipment won’t require a lot of extra planning and packing, but there are some additional things to consider when you are preparing for your trip.
- Packing your CPAP. You can pack your CPAP in your checked luggage if you’d like, but we recommend bringing it as a carry on. Often, checked bags are roughly handled or lost and you don’t want to risk damaging or losing your equipment. Per the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), CPAP machines are considered medical devices and do not count as one of your carry-on items. Today’s machines are typically light-weight and not much of a burden to travel with. However, if you travel frequently you may want to consider purchasing a second CPAP machine that is smaller and made to travel more conveniently. Before you pack your CPAP, you will want to:
- Disconnect the humidifier to make sure there is no water leaking while in transit.
- Allow the humidifiers water chamber to dry.
- Detach and organize all tubes and power cords.
- Extra supplies. Anything can happen when you travel, so it helps to be prepared with extra supplies, just in case something breaks or disappears. If you can, pack extra tubes and masks.
- Pack the appropriate plugs and adapters. If you are traveling internationally you will want to make sure you are able to use your CPAP equipment, so, if your machine isn’t equipped with universal power supplies, make sure you have what you need to adapt to various voltages.
- Bring a back-up battery pack. A back-up battery pack may come in handy if there is a power outage or you plan on camping. It may also come in handy if you need to use the CPAP on the plane. You can either purchase or rent an extra one for your trip.
- Reserve a seat on the plane that has power outlets. If you will be flying overnight or over seas you will likely find that you will be sleeping on the plane, and will need to use your CPAP. Plan accordingly when making your plane reservations. Also, if you need to use your CPAP on the plane, keep in mind that many airlines require 48-hours minimum notice to verify that your CPAP model meets the standards and regulations of the FAA.
- Bring your prescription. We receive several calls from patients requesting to purchase new equipment because their machine was lost or broken during travel. Unfortunately, we can only provide new equipment if we have a prescription. So, plan for the unexpected and bring your script with you just in case. Also, ask your current provider for a list of recommended suppliers in the places you will be visiting.
Though it may feel like it, you are not the only traveler with a CPAP machine. In fact, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agents are very accustomed to CPAP machines and quickly recognize them as medical equipment. However, there are some steps you can take to make getting through airport security a little easier.
- Label your CPAP case with a medical equipment luggage tag. Like we said, TSA agents are very familiar with the machines and their medical necessity, this tag will help make your life a little easier, however, and prevent them from bothering you about too many carry-ons.
- Be prepared to have your CPAP x-rayed and tested for explosives. According to the TSA, this is how the process will ensue: You will need to remove the CPAP machine from its case and put it in one of the same plastic bins that you place purses and shoes in when they are sent through the x-ray. You can keep the face-mask and tubing in the case. The TSA recognizes the importance of keeping the machine as sterile as possible and does allow you to put your CPAP into a clear plastic bag before you place it in the bin. Sometimes, after the x-ray, the TSA agent may want to perform an ETD (Explosive Trace Detection) test on it. The ETD tests requires the agent to run a small swab over the machine which will then be analyzed for traces of explosives. To keep your equipment as clean as possible, you may ask that they use fresh gloves and a new swab.
- Have your prescription on you. Again, traveling with your prescription is highly recommended. This time to be used if for some reason TSA agents would like further confirmation of your need for the equipment.
On the Plane
There are a few things to consider once you are seated on the plane.
- Use bottled water. If you need to use your machine on the plane, avoid using water from the airport sinks or the sink on the plane as they may not be the cleanest. Instead use bottled water.
- Use CPAP travel hoodies for privacy. If you are uneasy about using your machine on the plane, you can use a travel hoodie that is designed to use with CPAP machines for a little extra privacy.
- Have a battery pack available. Not all airlines have or allow you to use their outlets on the plane.
- Inform the flight attendant before you use the equipment. In today’s chaotic world, the flight attendants and passengers around you may become uneasy if they see someone randomly fulling out mechanical equipment. As a courtesy, simply let the attendant on hand know what you are getting out and why.
When you prepare ahead of time, traveling with your CPAP equipment is not as difficult as it may seem. Remember, you should never consider leaving your equipment at home, even for a short trip. Health complications are the last thing you want to have happen while you are away from home. If you have any further questions about traveling with your CPAP machine, we welcome you to contact Valley Sleep Therapy or Valley Sleep Center.