4 Things I Learned While Flying with my CPAP Machine

by john

I’ve been using my CPAP machine for a few months now and can definitely feel the difference in how I feel when I use it and when I don’t. There is no question that I feel so much better when I use it and so I really try to make sure I use it every night.

Well, I am not always at home because I have to travel sometimes and so I’ve started to become used to carrying it along. Up until last week I had only had the opportunity to take it with me in the car when I traveled for business in the local area, and I have that down to a science. Frankly, other than having an extra bag to carry it just isn’t that big of a deal.

But last week I had to take a couple of different trips, one to California and one to Michigan, that required me to travel by airplane. I am a seasoned flier, but this was the first time I have traveled since being diagnosed with sleep apnea so I thought I would review some of the things I learned in case you ever need to fly with your CPAP machine.

Here are 4 Things I Learned While Flying with my CPAP Machine:

#1 – Learn about the TSA

One of the first things I did before leaving on my trip was to research whether or not I would have any problems traveling with my CPAP machine. I ended up finding a pretty official statement on the TSA website here. I actually printed that off and brought with me just in case I had any problems with unruly TSA agents but my fear was unfounded – everything went smoothly.

Here are the key points:

CPAPs are allowed through security checkpoints once they have undergone screening.

Passengers will be required to take their CPAP machine out of its carrying case and place the device in a bin for x-ray screening. Facemasks and tubing can remain in the carrying case.

In addition to x-ray inspection of your CPAP machine, a visual and physical inspection, and Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) sampling will be required.

#2 – Don’t take your humidifier

My ResMed S8 Elite II CPAP machine comes with a detachable humidifier that I normally use when I sleep at home or even when I am on the road traveling in my car. I decided not to hassle with bringing the humidifier on this trip for a couple of reasons.

First, it was an extra piece of equipment that I am pretty sure I would have to take out of the case and put through the scanner. I wasn’t 100% sure because I don’t know how much electronics it actually has in it, but I just didn’t want to have to deal with it.

Second, the humidifier requires distilled water to ensure the longevity of the equipment. When I am traveling by car I bring along a water bottle filled with distilled water but of course water bottles and the TSA do not go together so I would not be able to bring distilled water, meaning I either use tap water or buying distilled water on location. I didn’t want to do either.

So, I chose not to bring the humidifier. And I slept just fine, thank you very much.

#3 – Every TSA agent is different

The way the process usually works at security is if they need to pull you aside for additional screening, and if you have a CPAP machine you will need additional screening, then the TSA agent usually has you gather up all of your stuff and follow them to the bomb detection device. And that is how it worked at my security stops in Minneapolis. But TSA agents in Los Angeles and Grand Rapids handled it differently – in those locations they actually grabbed my CPAP machine and brought over themselves while I was putting my shoes on. In Grand Rapids I never even saw what they did to it because they did it behind a screen.

I have to admit I wasn’t 100% comfortable with that, but it happened so fast I didn’t have a chance to say anything. According to the TSA you have the right to ask the TSA agents to change their gloves, clean the inspection table and change the Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) sampling media before conducting the ETD sampling.

If you don’t like the idea of your device getting manhandled you probably should be very specific about what you want and make sure to catch them before they just grab it and go do their thing.

#4 – CPAP is mainstream

I’m probably a year too late but I am going to be buying stock in ResMed (RMD). CPAP is mainstream now and ResMed is the only big CPAP-focused player I am aware of that is public. Do you know of another? I’d love to hear about it.

Why did I decide to invest? One simple fact. When the TSA agents at the security line were barking out their instructions they now say something like “Please remove your shoes and put your laptops and cpap machines in a separate bin.” Yep, they actually mentioned CPAP. And they did this at every security line I went through. Now it is possible they have been doing this for years and I just never noticed because I wasn’t on CPAP at the time but I don’t think so – I think this is a recent development. And to me that signals that CPAP is mainstream and that means money.

So I’m putting some of my own money on ResMed. I’ll let you know how it works out.

I was a little apprehensive about travelling with the CPAP machine but all in all it went well. One things I didn’t try to push that I certainly could have is to see how well the airlines would handle having a 3rd bag of carry on. These days they limit you to two, and I was fine since I had a backback and my CPAP bag. However this time I checked a bag but I could have easily gotten away with taking that bag carry on. Would I have had a problem with the extra bag even though it was a medical device?

I’ll have to leave that testing for another time.

If you need to travel with your CPAP machine don’t worry – if my experience is standard you will have no problems.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

S B February 17, 2010 at 8:49 am

I’ve traveled with a CPAP for nearly 5 year, including to Europe. My humidifier is built in, and I always take it. It is not counted as baggage, since it is considered medical equipment, and I’ve been allowed to take a bottle of distilled water, as well. They swipe it with some pad to determine if it is really water, and all it well. Never been questioned. One agent even remarked that I sure had an older model, and did I know how small the new models were now?

SV April 16, 2010 at 1:19 am

First time i’m taking my CPAP machine to Europe. Will a standard electric converter do the trick!?

Robert Jenkins June 1, 2010 at 1:02 am

Excellent advice! My father will be traveling with his CPAP this summer and he was extremely concerned with the process.

Jeff CO February 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Not a fan of the TSA so I never take CPAP out of bag. They bitch but I do not care. Don’t do anything to make their job easier. Biggest waste of tax payer money in the history of this country. Just my opinion. Thought new Resmed S9 would travel easier but it requires a huge power supply that defeats size advantage of new unit.

Chris October 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm

You may not be aware of this however, the airlines actually “reduce” cabin air pressure on the planes to “relax” the passengers. Unfortunately, if you have Sleep Apnea, you are already starving for air while sleeping, and falling asleep on a plane may add to it. I have noted on loooooong flights, I’ll fall asleep (sitting up) and when I awake, my face and scalp are also “waking up”. Similar to having your leg or arm fall asleep feeling. NOT GOOD symptoms ! ! !

Good thing the engines are so loud, otherwise, I’d probably have ALL the passengers annoyed with me for snoring. 🙂

My Elite II has the humidifier tank as part of the machine, also. In traveling, I have used “tap water” with no adverse effect. Just clean it, when you get the chance.

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