Packing Your CPAP
A CPAP machine is relatively durable, especially if you opt for a premium model, but it’s also not immune from being battered (or lost) during regular transport. If you’re flying with a CPAP machine, keep the following in mind.
Can I Check My CPAP Machine? Should I?
Yes, you can check your CPAP, but TSA doesn’t recommend it. The chances of the CPAP either being misplaced or damaged are too high a gamble. And because some people may want to use their medical equipment during the flight (e.g., on overnight flights, etc.), it’s best to have it nearby at all times.
Does My CPAP Machine Count as a Carry On?
A CPAP machine is considered a medical item, which is why airlines are not allowed to count it as a carry-on.
Travel Bag or Carrying Case?
A carrying case is typically made of fabric and accommodates the mask, machine, filter, and tube. A travel bag is usually a hard-shell case that will accommodate the machine only. For most travelers, the answer comes down to that of convenience and travel plans.
If you’re planning to carry your own luggage at all times with the utmost care, it may make sense to choose a carrying case. But if you’re planning on letting others handle your luggage (e.g., giving it to a bellhop, etc.), the travel bag is designed to better protect your CPAP machine.
Should I Bring My Prescriptions with Me When Traveling?
It’s not strictly required. According to federal law, you can’t purchase a CPAP machine without a prescription. However, if you don’t have the prescription on you, a TSA official could argue that you’re somehow using is unlawfully (e.g., borrowed the machine, etc.). In addition, if the machine breaks down or malfunctions for any reason, you’ll need the prescription if you need an emergency replacement. In case the copy of your prescription is lost somewhere, take a photo of it with your smartphone, so you have some documentation in case.
Do I Need to Bring Cleaning Supplies for My CPAP Machine?
Yes. You really should be cleaning your CPAP machine every day (if you’re not already). The mask, reusable filters, chamber, and hose should be cleaned once a week, so depending on how long you’ll be gone, you may need to bring supplies for these items as well. The air will be cleaner, and you’re less likely to become ill when on vacation.
Do I need an adapter for my CPAP when traveling abroad?
Almost certainly. Most hotel rooms are not equipped with standard US outlets. We also recommend taking extension cords with you because you may not have an outlet anywhere near the bed. If you want to be on the extra safe side, carry a backup battery pack as well when you fly with a CPAP machine. If your airline seat doesn’t have an outlet on a long flight or you experience a power outage during your trip, you’ll be glad you did.
Can I pack distilled water in my luggage or carry on?
You can bring 3.4 ounces of distilled water in your carry on and unlimited distilled water in a checked bag. We highly recommend cleaning your CPAP with distilled water because it both prevents damage to the machine and keeps you healthier. In addition, if you’re taking your humidifier, you should be filling it with distilled water only. Distilled water may be hard to find when you’re out and about.
If you need to use tap or bottled water occasionally, we only recommend doing so on the Dreamstation Go Heated Humidifier. You can also purchase a waterless humidifier like the ResMed HumidX (compatible with the ResMed AirMini) or a heat moisture exchange unit.
TSA Screening Process
When it comes to how the TSA examines your CPAP luggage, your experience may vary from trip to trip. In some cases, you may need to take the CPAP machine out of its case, place it in a bin, and run it through the X-ray machine. (The accessories can stay in the bag.)
If you’re concerned about the many germs that can be found in a typical airport check-point security bin, you can ask for a sterile plastic bag to place the machine in. You can also carry your own plastic bag if you want to expedite the process.
In some cases, TSA officials may even want to do an Explosive Trace Detection test where they swab the whole machine down and look for explosive residue. In other airports, you may not have to take it out of the case at all. Your experience will likely come down to the city you’re in and the officials you happen to meet on your travels.
You can also label your CPAP equipment with a Medical Identification Luggage Tag. This official ID can be presented at security checkpoints so there’s no confusion as to the nature of the bag or equipment.
CPAP In-flight Tips
Because a CPAP is a medical device, you are typically allowed to use it in flight — as long as it’s FAA approved and you have followed your airline’s policies:
- 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.
- Delta: Delta has a list of approved CPAP devices listed on their website that can be used without medical approval. Those traveling with the devices will need a battery life that is 150% that of the given flight time.
- American: American Airlines requests customers contact their Special Assistance desk at least 48 hours in advance to confirm approval of a CPAP machine. Similar to United, it helps to have manufacturer information available at the time of the call.
- Jet Blue: You can use CPAP machines on Jet Blue flights, so long as fulfill all TSA and FAA regulations (e.g., packing it away during landing, etc.).
- Southwest: Southwest encourages you to carry-on your CPAP flight to keep it protected during transit. You can use it on the flight so long as you meet all TSA and FAA standards.
All US airlines will allow you to use your CPAP machine during flight because it is a medical device. If you’re flying an international airline though, you should call at least 48 hours ahead and ask for their official policies.
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David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.