If you are someone who relies on a CPAP machine to get a good night’s sleep, the thought of travel can be a little daunting. The truth is, traveling with a CPAP machine is a lot easier than you think, and spending some extra time following the checklist and tips in this article will allow you to maintain your CPAP compliance and still get a great night’s sleep.
In this article, we cover:
- 10 Tips for Traveling with CPAP
- 8 Tips for Flying with CPAP
- CPAP Policies for Popular US Airlines
- 3 Tips for Getting Through a TSA Checkpoint
- 7 Tips to Make Flying With CPAP More Comfortable
CPAP Travel Checklist: 10 Tips for Traveling with CPAP
Regardless of how you’ll be traveling, here are ten things you’ll want to do before ever leaving home with your CPAP machine:
- Test and Check Your Equipment in Advance – We recommend carefully inspecting your CPAP machine, mask, tubing, and any extra accessories (such as a backup power supply) two full weeks in advance of your trip. Search for signs of wear or any pieces that could break or fail during your trip. Doing this two weeks in advance will give you time to order any necessary replacements or backups, and will allow you to test any travel accessories, such as a new CPAP battery, in the comfort of your home.
- Replace Old Supplies – It’s a good idea to replace any worn CPAP supplies with new materials before your trip. Having a fresh tube, cushion, and air filter will make maintenance easier and reduce the chance of something important breaking while you’re away from home.
- Clean and Dry Before Packing – You’ll want to thoroughly clean your equipment immediately before packing it. Make sure that your equipment is totally dry to prevent mold and mildew from growing in your mask, tubing, or humidifier.
- Bring Extra CPAP Supplies – While packing a ton of extra supplies can get cumbersome quickly, we highly recommend designating some luggage space for a backup mask cushion, some machine filters, and/or an extra set of headgear. You never know when something might break, get chewed up by an in-law’s pet, or become lost, and having backup supplies will help to keep your therapy on track.
- Always Travel With a Copy of Your CPAP Prescription – While you’ll almost certainly never need it, you’ll be very glad you have it if the right (or more accurately, wrong) circumstances arise. You shouldn’t ever be asked to show your prescription, but you’ll likely need it in the event you have to order new parts or supplies during your trip.
- Pack Your Own Water – Distilled water is the only water that won’t calcify or cause mineral buildup in your CPAP machine. Relying on tap water for your CPAP machine’s humidifier is a bad idea and, depending on where you’re traveling, may not be healthy or feasible. We recommend traveling with your own supply of distilled CPAP water for peace of mind.
- Bring Easy Cleaning Methods With You – It isn’t always realistic to soak your supplies in a basin of hot soapy water, and CPAP wipes are a great alternative for your regular cleaning routine.
- Bring a Backup Power Source – A CPAP backup battery isn’t necessary most of the time, but if you’re traveling somewhere where there’s any uncertainty whatsoever about the stability or availability of electricity, you’ll still be able to maintain your therapy off the grid with an extra battery pack.
- DC Converters and Extension Cords Expand Your Options – A DC converter makes your therapy more versatile by allowing you to power your device with 12V DC outlets, some solar panel options, and even some CPAP backup batteries like the EXP48 and EXP96 Pro. By packing an extension cord, you’ll never have to worry about access to a nearby outlet or be unexpectedly constrained by the length of your tubing and power cord.
- Get a Medical Alert Wallet Card – A medical alert wallet card is a great idea even if you aren’t traveling, and could very easily save your life—especially if you’re traveling alone. By keeping a medical alert wallet card, first responders will be more informed about your health history and have a better idea of how to treat you in the event you become unresponsive.
8 Tips for Flying with CPAP
If you’ll be traveling by air, the following section is just for you! Here are eight tips to make flying with your CPAP that much smoother:
- Check Your Luggage, Not Your CPAP – Your CPAP machine is a medical device and cannot legally be counted as carry-on luggage. Due to the sensitive nature of the machine, you should keep it with you at all times.
- Invest in a Carrying Case – Most modern CPAP machines come packaged in a machine-specific carrying case to make travel easier. If yours didn’t, we recommend using a separate bag to transport your CPAP machine since it won’t be counted as a carry-on. Even if it’s just an old duffle bag, you’ll be glad to have the extra room in your designated carry-on.
- Bring Distilled Water If You Need To – The TSA allows up to 3.4 oz of distilled water for carry-on luggage to accommodate those that wish to use their CPAP device in-flight. There’s no technical limit to how much distilled water you can bring in your checked bag, but the TSA does ask that you limit your liquids to “reasonable quantities”.
- Keep Copies of Important Documents Handy – Airline employees and TSA agents are trained to recognize medical devices and will not be surprised by your CPAP machine. While most modern CPAP machines are FAA-approved for in-flight use, having a copy of your manufacturer’s FAA-approval status will help to quickly clear any confusion that may (but most likely won’t) arise. Carrying a copy of your prescription can also be helpful if anything happens to your CPAP machine or equipment during the trip. Having your prescription on hand is invaluable if you need to replace some supplies or machine parts during your travels.
- Get Familiar With Your Flight Layout – TripAdvisor has a handy tool called Seat Guru that allows you to look up your flight’s floorplan in advance. This can be helpful if you’re planning to use your machine in-flight and require a powered outlet or simply prefer to know which seats have the most legroom.
- Flying Internationally? Bring an Outlet Adapter – Most modern CPAP machines are dual-voltage and will automatically detect and adjust to higher-voltage outlets. You will need a country-specific adapter, however, and you’ll also need to make sure that your CPAP machine’s power supply is rated for at least 220v.
- Call Your Airline 48 Hours in Advance – No domestic flight can deny your CPAP machine, but it’s always a good idea to be familiar with your airline’s policies about in-flight usage. We have a list of some of the more common policies below, but we recommend contacting the airline 48 hours in advance to make sure your trip goes smoothly. Please Note: Some airlines will require you to have a CPAP battery with a capacity longer than your flight time if you plan to use your machine during the flight.
- Don’t Forget About Waterless Humidification – If traveling with distilled water is not feasible for you, some travel CPAP machines, such as the ResMed AirMini and HDM Z2, offer waterless humidification options that can help you save space and travel lighter.
Airline Requirements for CPAP Machines
Here are the CPAP policies of various airlines in the United States and a link to each airline’s policy overview. If you can’t find answers online pertaining to your specific airline, equipment, or needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to the airline’s help desk, as they will have the most up-to-date information:
- United – You will need to give at least 48-hour notice to the airline’s Accessibility Desk if you’re planning to use your CPAP on the airplane. To expedite this process, have the manufacturer information on hand, so United can verify it meets the FAA approval standards. You’ll also need to have enough portable batteries to power the device for the duration of the flight time plus 3 hours if you plan to use the device in-flight.
- Delta – Delta has a list of approved CPAP devices listed on their website that can be used without medical approval. Those planning to use the machine in-flight will need a battery with a capacity that is at least 150% that of the given flight time.
- American Airlines – American Airlines doesn’t require any sort of advanced notice if you plan to travel with or use your CPAP machine in flight. They do note, however, that passengers should not rely on the availability of powered outlets and may even need a DC power adaptor to utilize seat power aboard the aircraft.
- Jet Blue – You can use CPAP machines on Jet Blue flights, so long as they meet all TSA and FAA regulations (e.g., packing it away during landing, etc.).
- Southwest – Southwest encourages you to carry on your CPAP device to keep it protected during transit. You can use it on the flight so long as you meet all TSA and FAA standards. Per Southwest’s website, “Southwest Airlines does not have electrical outlets onboard the aircraft for commercial product use,” so like most others, be prepared to bring your own power supply if you plan to use your device in-flight.
All US airlines will allow you to use your CPAP machine during flight because it is a medical device. You should call the airline at least 48 hours in advance and ask for their official policies if you’re flying internationally.
3 Tips for Taking a CPAP Machine Through a TSA Checkpoint
Getting a CPAP machine through airport security may seem like a hassle, but TSA agents are very familiar with medical devices and know what to look for and expect. Here are some tips to keep in mind to expedite the screening process:
- Use a Clear Plastic Bag – You’ll have to remove your machine from its carrying case for screening, but you can pack your device inside a clear plastic bag to prevent unwanted germs or residues from collecting on your equipment during handling. Other accessories may remain in the case while the machine is screened.
- Request New Gloves if You’d Like – Sometimes, a TSA agent may want to perform an explosive residue test on your device. Using a cotton swab, the TSA agent will check your device for traces of explosive residue. While they will have to remove your machine from its clear plastic bag to do so, you can request for the agent to replace their gloves with new ones, a new cotton swab, or even a new plastic bag for your machine afterward.
- Medical Device ID Tags Help – TSA agents are trained to recognize medical equipment, but having a medical ID luggage tag with relevant, easily identifiable information can reduce the amount of time you spend getting through your security checkpoint. It will also increase the chances of your machine being returned to you should it become lost at any time during your trip.
7 Tips To Make Flying With Your CPAP More Comfortable
It’s not uncommon for some people to have anxiety around flying in and of itself, regardless of whether you’re traveling with medical equipment. Here are a few optional extras to consider to make your flight that much more comfortable:
- A Supportive Neck Pillow – It’s almost cliche at this point to bring a neck pillow on the plane with you, but there’s a reason for that—it’s pretty darn comfortable. It’s also extremely helpful in keeping the spine aligned while sleeping in a seated position.
- A Comfortable Blanket – Alongside a good neck pillow, we recommend traveling with a blanket to keep you cozy during the flight. A weighted blanket can be cumbersome to travel with, but has actually been shown to reduce anxiety if you’re an anxious flyer.
- Aromatherapy Items – Whether you simply add some lavender essential oil to your neck pillow or want to add aromatherapy to your CPAP routine, scents can be very powerful for relaxation.
- Bath Accessories – While these won’t help you during the flight, they will certainly help you unwind after a long day of travel. Bring some bath bombs, lotion, and other self-care items to give yourself something to look forward to after the flight!
- Reading Material – Keeping the mind stimulated and occupied is an excellent way to pass the time if the in-flight entertainment isn’t cutting it for you. Paired with some earplugs, sinking into a good book can give a worried mind something else to focus on for a few hours.
- A Good Pair of Headphones – There aren’t enough good things that can be said about keeping a quality pair of headphones on you while traveling. Whether they’re noise-canceling or not, listening to your favorite podcast or music can help travel times pass more quickly, and SleepPhones are a niche solution that can help you nap and listen to music at the same time!
- A Portable Battery Bank – If you plan to entertain yourself with an electronic device or two during a long flight or day of travel, a portable lithium-ion battery bank specifically for recharging your phone, tablet, e-reader, or other electronic devices is a must-have. You’ll be glad to have it if your flight has a layover and it can be extremely helpful in the event of unexpected delays, too.
When armed with the proper knowledge, traveling with a CPAP machine doesn’t have to be scary. It’s easy to have a smooth experience from beginning to end when you know what to expect ahead of time and pack accordingly.
Remember to pack everything you reasonably can to support a normal bedtime routine and sleep schedule, check with your airline 48 hours before your flight if you’re uncertain of anything, and don’t skimp on creature comforts if you get anxious flying. Do everything you can to prepare yourself and your equipment for the trip, and you shouldn’t face any insurmountable issues.
Of course, life happens, and we can’t always prepare for everything. Still, we hope the tips and information in this article will be of use to you the next time you plan on traveling with your CPAP machine!
Eric graduated from Texas State University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He has worked as a freelance photographer, editor, and writer. Eric is committed to providing the most value possible to CPAP.com readers by creating a highly approachable user experience, with an emphasis on actionable information and thorough research.