With careful planning you can travel with PF – even overseas

Just ask Usha Glen who last May spent three weeks travelling with friends and family around the UK and to Bruges, Belgium. Usha, 70, of Thornhill, Ontario, was diagnosed with IPF in 2017 and currently uses oxygen – a portable concentrator – only for exertion.

Usha visiting the sights in Bruges, Belgium.
Usha visiting the sights in Bruges, Belgium.

“My main concerns were the flight to London; what I would do if something went wrong with my concentrator and getting sick while away,” she says. Careful planning and listening to the experiences of others and the advice of her health care professionals, helped her overcome her unease and enjoy a special trip.

CPFF was a great resource. Travel is a topic that often comes up during the National Support Group meetings, which Usha attended. And the CPFF Facebook page let her discuss travel tips with others in the CPFF Community. In addition, CPFF’s Executive Director Sharon Lee, was able to connect Usha with Stephen Jones, the Chair of Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis UK, who she communicated with before her trip.

Usha and husband in Cornwall
Usha Glen, who lives with PF, and her husband Andrew in Cornwall, England. With lots of preparation, they enjoyed several weeks travelling with friends in the UK and Bruges, Belgium, this past May.

Usha started planning her trip in January. Originally, she and her husband Andrew had planned to meet up with family and friends in the UK and then travel together to the Amalfi coast in Italy.  “We eventually decided that staying in and/or near the UK, with just the single flight would be better,” she says. “My husband is from the UK and he and his family were familiar with the health care system there. And, it was difficult to get information about flying with oxygen from the European Airlines.”

Air Canada was very accommodating, says Usha. “When I told them I was flying with oxygen, they changed my seats, without charging extra fees, and suggested and arranged for transportation and wheelchair assistance for getting around the airport and boarding the plane. It made the whole flight experience less stressful.”

The airline outlines online their various requirements, the oxygen concentrators they allow on board and the battery time needed (double the length of time of the flight.) Other airlines may have different requirements. CPFF’s website also has several links to resources on travelling with oxygen.

Before travelling by air, you’ll also need to have your health care professional, (physician or nurse practitioner) complete a “Fitness for Travel” form, for most airlines.

Usha in London, England.
Usha in Greenwich, England, with her concentrator at her feet. She carried it with her in a shoulder bag.

“Like many others, I was most worried about insurance coverage,” says Usha. “My insurance company required me to be in ‘stable’ condition for 90 days before my trip. That meant no worsening of symptoms, no medication changes, and no hospital visits before I left. I was quite anxious about not getting sick before we left in May.”

Usha packed her concentrator, batteries, medications and health and insurance related paperwork all in one carry-on, which made it easier to get through security in a timely way. Once on board, Usha’s flight went without incident and she had her concentrator set at level one about half the time, and level two the rest of the time. And she had plenty of surplus battery time, with no major delays in her flights.

While in the UK and Bruges, her portable concentrator, batteries, and electrical adapter all worked well and she did plenty of walking and used public transport, as well as travelling by car. “The extra weight, about 10 pounds, does mean you exert yourself more, but it worked out just fine for me and sometimes my husband would carry it for me.”

Asked what advice she would give others planning an overseas trip, Usha offers several tips:

  1. Start planning early. There are a lot of little pieces to consider and organize. Don’t leave anything to the last minute.
  2. Be sure there is good medical care available where you are going, where they can treat pulmonary fibrosis.
  3. Check with your insurance provider to find out their specific requirements and what they will cover if you become ill while travelling. Be sure to include your travel days for coverage too.
  4. Talk and listen to others in a similar situation about their travel experiences, by connecting with the CPFF community through support groups or Facebook.
  5. You know your body and how you handle stress best. Take the time you need to rest when you need it.
  6. Do not put your life on hold because of pulmonary fibrosis. Do what you can, while you can, and enjoy yourself.

Now that Usha knows what to expect when travelling by air, she is beginning to plan a trip with her daughter, niece and sister-in-law.