I remember bedtime as a kid growing up in Spokane, WA. My room was down a short hallway from my parents' room. I'd sleep with my door mostly open, and they'd sleep with theirs nearly shut - just open a crack with a sock keeping it from closing. The sock was usually there to keep the door from banging against the door jamb if there happened to be a draft, or if the window was open during the summer.
Of course I went to bed before my parents, so I'd usually be asleep when they came upstairs to bed. It wasn't uncommon, though, for me to be awakened shortly thereafter by a horrible noise from my parents bedroom. It sounded like the noises one might hear while watching a show on Animal Planet, only louder. The sound was my dad snoring. He was snorting and gasping at the end of an apnea event, resuming his breathing so that he could move on to his next apnea.
Now my dad uses a CPAP machine - a REMstar Plus to be specific - to prevent his snoring and address his sleep apnea problem, but without CPAP therapy I'm sure he would still be making an awful lot of noise at bedtime.
We all know that people with sleep apnea use CPAP machines in their homes, but what do people with sleep apnea do when they travel by air for long distances? When they sleep on a plane do they suffer the same effects of sleep apnea that they suffer at home? Sure they do, and that's why many CPAP users take their CPAP machines with them as carry-on items when they travel on airliners. It's one thing to sleep poorly and snore at home, but it's something else entirely to do that in front of 300 other people. Of course, other CPAP users choose to carry their CPAP machines on the plane with them to prevent damage to their CPAP machines at the hands of baggage handlers. Even though these CPAP users don't intend to use the machine on the plane, they can't bear to pack these relatively expensive units into their checked luggage.
I've never actually seen anyone using a CPAP machine on an airplane - not even on relatively long flights - but I know many airlines allow it. I also know that according to the Transportation Security Administration a CPAP machine is allowed beyond security checkpoints at airports. I'm very aware that a lot of our customers are interested in the finer points of air travel with their CPAP machines, especially those making extremely long journeys.
So what exactly are the requirements and limitations for traveling with a CPAP machine, and what should you expect to be able to do with your trusty travel CPAP? In this article I'll point out some things to consider and I'll point you to some online resources so that you can figure out if you'll be able to carry and even use your CPAP machine on your next flight.
If what I've read and heard is true, you'll find that most personnel at security checkpoints in airports are familiar with CPAP machines. According to CPAP users and according to the TSA it's advisable to carry along your prescription and/or statement of medical necessity from your physician so that you can demonstrate the need for your CPAP machine, and move the screening process along swiftly. From what I've read, though, it's sounds like getting through security screening with a CPAP machine can actually be hit or miss. It's definitely not guaranteed. Many CPAP users report no problems getting through the X-ray machine and passing the subsequent explosives and chemical tests, while others are forced to check their CPAP machines because they don't pass the X-ray check.
The official word from the TSA is that "CPAP machines respirators" are permitted beyond security checkpoints. You can read about this at:
However, if you keep researching and dig a little deeper, you'll find that at:
the TSA also says, "Any respiratory equipment that Security Officers cannot clear by inspection will not be permitted into the sterile area". That's quite a loop hole and it leaves CPAP users wondering if their CPAP machines will be able to pass inspection.
My recommendation would therefore be to expect to be able to take your CPAP machine on an airplane with you, but don't be surprised if you end up having to check it.
Using a CPAP Machine on Board
Provided your CPAP machine is allowed passage through the security checkpoint and onto the airplane, what should you expect if you want to use the CPAP machine en route?
If you're flying first or business class there's a pretty good chance you'll have the ability to power your CPAP machine on board the plane. Check out SeatGuru.com to see if your seat on your next trip will have a power port available. (By the way, this is a fantastic web site for air travelers and contains contact information for all major airlines.)
The most common type of power outlet on airplanes these days is called EmPower. You have a couple of options for hooking up your CPAP machine to the EmPower outlet. First, you could simply buy an EmPower-to-12V adapter, and then hook your CPAP machine up via it's own 12V adapter cable. For added flexibility you could purchase an inverter that could be used with just about every device you might happen to carry on an airplane or in your car. The inverter can plug into the EmPower outlet or a standard 12V outlet. Then all you have to do is plug your standard AC power cord into the inverter. You can see an example of just such an inverter at http://us.kensington.com/html/10359.html. At under $70, this is a pretty good option considering it's pretty much the only inverter you'd ever need.
But wait! Does your CPAP machine require a true sine wave inverter, or will a modified sine wave inverter be adequate? Some CPAP machines require the true sine wave to function properly. Newer ResMed CPAP machines fall within this category, but all the other machines we sell are designed for use with a modified sine wave inverter like the Kensington model referenced above.
Now that you've hooked your travel CPAP machine up to an EmPower outlet in your first class seat, will your CPAP machine actually work? Let's take a look at the power requirements for a typical CPAP machine.
From physics class we know that the following equation can be used to determine power consumption
Power = Voltage x Current
Taking the Puritan Bennett 420G travel CPAP machine as an example, we can see that the input voltage is 13 V and that the current is 1.5 A. Therefore, we know then that the maximum power consumption is 20 Watts.
Power = 13 V x 1.5 A = 19.5 Watts
Good news for travel CPAP users because the EmPower outlet on airplanes is designed for up to 75 Watts of power consumption.
An alternative to flying in a seat configured with an EmPower outlet is a battery powered CPAP machine. The AEIOMed Everest / Invacare Polaris TR travel CPAP machine was designed specifically with travelers in mind. When fully charged the battery lasts for up to 11 hours when the CPAP machine pressure setting is 10 cm H2O. If you're sitting in first class next to an EmPower outlet you can run your travel CPAP machine from the outlet and charge the battery at the same time.
Newer CPAP machines all have universal power supplies that adjust for different voltage inputs automatically. That means that when you get to your international destination and begin using the 240 Volt power supply you don't need to worry about accidentally blowing up your CPAP machine. Older CPAP machines like the Respironics Solo LX have a switch on the back that must be flipped to use a 240 Volt power outlet. Be prepared for some funky wall outlets by purchasing an international plug adapter kit. With newer CPAP machines, if you can make the power cord fit into the wall (with a plug adapter) then you're good to go.
The Seat Guru web site contains contact information for all major airlines. Before traveling I recommend you visit this web site, and contact your airline if you have any questions. If you're concerned about your travel CPAP machine passing inspection at the X-ray machine then you should also consider contacting airport security personnel before traveling.
Good luck traveling with your travel CPAP machine. Feel free to contact us with any advice or CPAP travel stories you'd like to share.
CPAP-Supply.com is a leading online retailer of CPAP equipment. Located in Spokane, WA CPAP-Supply.com has been serving thousands of customers around the world since 2001. Founded on a belief that patients are their own best primary care providers, CPAP-Supply.com understands the importance of educating patients and customers on both the effects of and treatment for obstructive sleep apnea. For more information visit CPAP-Supply.com or call toll free 1-888-955-2727.