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How to Travel with CPAP

Tips and best practices for travelling, flying, and camping with your CPAP machine and equipment.

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Traveling with CPAP in the modern age is a lot more doable than in the early years of CPAP. The machines are smaller, lightweight, and can be accompanied by convenient carrying bags for easy transportation. While it might be tempting to skip CPAP while traveling, it’s important you don’t. The returning symptoms that can occur make it worthwhile to prepare for travel. This guide will walk you through the essentials of CPAP travel, including best practices, flying with CPAP, getting through airport security, camping, and more.

General CPAP Travel Tips & Best Practices

  • Make sure your equipment is thoroughly dried before packing it. CPAP equipment is wet by nature. It’s important to completely dry your machine, mask, hose, and humidifier before packing it. This prevents mold or mildew from forming.
  • Pack back up CPAP equipment and supplies. To save you frustration (and money), it’s best to bring a backup mask, hose, and filter. While these take up extra space, they can come in clutch should any items become damaged or lost. It's a good practice to have these as backups anyways regardless if you’re traveling.
  • Have a copy of your prescription. This is especially important if flying. Having your prescription with you can come in handy when going through TSA security. It also gives you a safety net should you need to purchase an additional machine while away from home. It’s best to keep it in the bag with your equipment for convenience.
  • Bring your own distilled water. As mentioned prior, distilled water is the only type of water you should use with your CPAP. Bringing your own can prepare you for if you run into an issue where distilled water isn’t readily available where you’re traveling (especially if camping off-grid).
  • Pack cleaning wipes. Because of their size, CPAP cleaning machines are not ideal for travel. This is where disinfecting wipes can come in handy. Travel wipes also eliminate the need for distilled water to clean so you can dedicate it for use in your humidifier.
  • Bring a second battery pack. If you’re using a battery pack to power your machine, it’s a good idea to invest in a second. Doing so will allow you to charge one while the other is in use. It also gives you a backup should one break.
  • Check your power compatibility. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to come prepared with the right equipment to adapt your power source. Every country is different, so check the local power supply methods.
  • Choose the right carrying equipment to meet your needs. The right travel equipment can make things a whole lot easier. When considering which travel bag/case is right for you, keep these things in mind:

    a. Size:
    How much equipment are you bringing? You’ll want a bag that stores your machine alongside the accessories.

    b. Style: A travel bag that’s soft typically offers more space and compartments for your equipment. However, a travel case is usually hard and provides better protection from outside forces.

    c. Handling: What type of handling style do you prefer? Some feature shoulder straps that lay across your body. There are bags that have a handle to carry with your hand. Some even feature wheels to roll. Backpack styles are also great as they free up your arms. This is entirely up to our preference and physical capabilities.
Flying with CPAP

Flying with CPAP

Flying, in general, can be overwhelming whereas flying with CPAP can make things worse. However, today’s airlines and airports are well-prepared for the millions of CPAP users that fly with their equipment. If you’ll be flying with CPAP, consider these tips:

  • Don’t check your CPAP. While highly unlikely, checking your CPAP equipment puts it at risk of being damaged or lost. 
  • Don’t pack your CPAP in your carry-on. There’s no need to stress about making the most of your allowed carry-on. Because CPAP is considered to be medical equipment, airlines cannot legally classify it as a carry-on.
  • Bring a copy of your CPAP prescription and FAA compliance notification. CPAP equipment is well-known amongst airports and airlines, making the chances of any issues occurring low. However, it’s always good to bring the appropriate documentation should they request it.
  • Contact the airline 48 hours in advance to request a seat with a power outlet. If you’ll be using your CPAP machine in-flight, most airlines request you let them know 48 hours before your flight. You can also inquire if there are power outlets and request a seat with one.
  • Bring 3.4 ounces of distilled water. 3.4 oz is the gold standard when it comes to bringing liquids on board any plane. And, as mentioned prior, you should only use distilled water in your machine. 
  • Invest in a waterless portable CPAP. If you’ll be traveling frequently, this investment can be worth it. There are a few portable CPAP machines made to make travel as convenient as possible. Some models use the moisture from your breath for humidity.

Getting Through Airport Security with Your CPAP

  • Pack your machine in a clear plastic bag. You will have to take your machine out of its bag. Keeping it in a clear plastic bag protects it from being contaminated.
  • If security needs to touch your CPAP machine, ask for new gloves. Security touches many things on a given day. Asking them to replace their gloves lowers the chances of your machine being contaminated.
  • Place a medical device ID tag on your machine. Doing so will differentiate your CPAP from other electronics.

Tips by Airline

United:

  • Give the airline’s accessibility desk a 48-hour notice if you’re planning to use your machine in-flight.
  • To make this process quicker and easier, have your CPAP machine’s manufacturer information ready so they can verify it meets FAA approval standards.
  • If you’ll be using your CPAP while in-flight, they require you to bring ample battery life plus three hours of extra battery time.
  • If you need more information, you can call their accessibility assistance line at 1-800-228-2744.

Delta:

  • Delta includes a full list of CPAP devices that are approved to be used without medical approval.
  • They require you to have a battery as a separate power source and that your battery life is 150% of your flight time.
  • If you will not be using your CPAP machine in-flight, then you do not need a battery that’s 150% of your flight time.
  • If you need more information, you can call their accessibility assistance line at 1-404-209-3434

American:

  • American requests you call their Special Assistance desk 48 hours in advance to confirm approval of your CPAP machine.
  • It helps to have your machine’s manufacturer information ready when calling.
  • They recommend bringing a fully-charged battery as well as a DC power adaptor.
  • If you have questions, you can call their Special Assistance desk at 800-237-7976 or visit their medical device page here.

Jet Blue:

  • Jet Blue allows you to use your CPAP machine as long as you adhere to TSA and FAA regulations.

Southwest:

  • Southwest allows you to use your CPAP machine as long as you adhere to TSA and FAA regulations.
  • They recommend you carry on your CPAP machine to keep it protected.
  • Calling in advance is not required. However, they do recommend it. You can call them at 1-800-435-9792.
Camping with CPAP

Camping

If you’re someone who loves the outdoors but is worried about using CPAP while camping, there’s no need to worry. In today’s world, both camping and CPAP have taken great strides to be friendly for CPAP users trying to camp while using their equipment.

Power Source: Plug-In v. Portable vs. Car Battery

Perhaps the biggest concern when it comes to camping is the power source. When it comes to this, you have three options: use a campsite with power or go off-grid, use a battery pack, or use a car battery.

Using Campsite Power

Visiting a campsite with power have become readily available, making it a great choice for CPAP users. Campsites such as KOA and state parks frequently have electricity available. It’s also a massive advantage for those using humidification which tends to drain batteries. Plugging in helps you to avoid this issue.

Pros:

  • These campsites are usually clean and well maintained
  • Some come with extras such as bathrooms, showers, and WiFi

Cons:

  • Because of popular demand, sometimes changing your plans is required
  • These campgrounds can get crowded and noisy
  • Not ideal if you’re looking for solitude

Using a CPAP Battery for Power

This option gives you the freedom to truly getaway. While these batteries only typically last one to two nights before needing to be charged, you can do so by bringing your own solar charger. We recommend bringing two to three batteries with you so you never had to worry.

Pros:

  • Empowers you with the ability to go off-grid camping.
  • CPAP batteries are FAA-approved for in-flight use. This means you can fly and then go camping off-grid if desired.
  • Most batteries are designed to work universally with popular CPAP machines
  • Solar chargers have become affordable and more efficient

Cons:

  • Depending on the model, some lithium-ion batteries can’t handle extreme heat.
  • Portable CPAP batteries can be expensive, costing upwards of $700 (there are a few in the $200-400 range).
  • You can end up running out of power.

Using a Deep Cycle Car or Marine Battery

You can use a car battery found at auto parts stores or large retail stores to power your CPAP machines. These types of batteries are lead-acid deep cycle batteries and have much larger capacities than lithium-ion batteries. This gives them the ability to power your equipment for days.

However, before you do so, you’ll need to obtain one of the two: 

  • DC adaptor cable: This uses alligator clips to connect to the battery which then outputs power to a cigarette lighter plug. You can then plug your CPAP’s DC cable in for power. Some batteries feature a built-in cigarette lighter plug which removes the need for an adaptor.
  • Inverter: This converts DC power from the battery into AC power for CPAP use. Some CPAP machines require a specialized inverter called a Pure Sine Wave Inverter. Failure to use this inverter can damage your machine. To ensure your inverter will work with a car battery, you’ll need to make sure it features alligator clips to connect to the battery.

Pros:

  • Car batteries will give you power for days.
  • They can be used to power more than just your CPAP machine.

Cons:

  • Car batteries are heavy and not ideal to be carried long distances.
  • Deep cycle batteries are not FAA approved and can’t be brought on a plane.

CPAP Camping Tips

  • Consider buying a travel CPAP machine. If you have the means to do so, a travel CPAP machine can be the most convenient option. These machines are compact for tight spaces and light so to minimize additional weight. It also helps to have a device for the road and home (reducing the chances of breaking a machine and not having CPAP at all).
  • Avoid Power Inverters. While inverters can help power your CPAP, they’re not the most efficient. Inverters rely on using battery power to convert DC to AC which can cause the battery to drain twice as fast as usual. If an inverter is avoidable, it’s best to choose a DC adaptor cable instead. However, some devices are not DC capable and require an inverter to convert power to AC.
  • Consider Using Solar. Solar charging offers an excellent power source for those wanting the full off-grid experience. They offer the ability to charge the battery during the day, so it’s ready to power your machine at night. They can also be used regardless of whether the sun is out, giving you an endless power supply. A bonus is they can charge other electronic devices.
  • Test Your Set-Up in Advance. The last thing you need is to pack up your CPAP equipment, and when it comes time to use it, not be able to do so. We recommend testing your CPAP machine on the chosen power supply before your trip. This means testing it during the day and then one night to see if it performs as usual. This will give you time to work out the kinks.
  • Bring Extra Cleaning Materials and Water. If you’re going out in the wilderness, you will need more cleaning materials than on a hotel-style trip. Be sure to bring extra cleaning wipes and distilled water, especially if you’ll be away from civilization. CPAP hygiene will be pushed when camping, so be sure to prepare for all the dirt and germs.

Today's technology makes travelling with your CPAP equipment a lot easier. While some planning is required, it's vital to keep up your CPAP therapy to prevent your sleep apnea symptoms from resurfacing. Use these tips mentioned to stay healthy while away from home. 

About the Author

Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.