Flying with COPD

Many people need to travel to get medical care from a specialist or medical center equipped to treat their condition. However, some medical conditions make it difficult to travel, especially when you need to travel long distances by air. One condition which can adversely affect a person’s ability to fly is COPD. For those suffering from this condition, an air ambulance is most of the time the safest option when traveling alone can be risky.

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, otherwise known as COPD, is a chronic disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs. It is often caused by repeated exposure to tobacco smoke, firsthand and secondhand, or exposure to fumes from burning fuel in poorly ventilated areas. Common symptoms of COPD include:

  • Difficulty breathing, especially during physical activities
  • Cough
  • Increased mucus production
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Blueness of the lips and fingernail beds
  • Lack of energy
  • Swelling in ankles, feet or legs

How does air travel affect COPD?

Aircraft taking off

For people who suffer from COPD, traveling by air can be a risk. The air pressure in a commercial airplane is different from the pressure on the ground. Gases expand, making it more difficult for people with respiratory problems to get the amount of oxygen they need. Additionally, personal oxygen tanks are restricted on flights. Therefore, air travel can increase risk for several negative outcomes in people with COPD. Some of these include:

  • Risk of significant hypoxemia, with the potential of arterial oxygen saturation (PaO2) falling below critical limits
  • Risk of hypoxemia-induced hyperventilation, which can lead to hyperinflation and respiratory muscle fatigue, especially during long flights
  • Increases in pulmonary artery pressure, which can cause increased right ventricle afterload and dysfunction
  • Increased sympathetic activation due to acute hypoxemia, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and ischemia
  • Sleep during the flight can increase oxygen desaturation significantly

Especially for someone who needs to travel for medical treatment, flying with COPD presents a special challenge that may require the use of air ambulance services that can provide in-flight health monitoring and medical care.

Travel on a commercial flight with a medical escort

One of the air ambulance services methods is travelling on a commercial flight with a medical escort. For people with mild COPD, you may still be able to travel on a commercial flight accompanied by a medical escort. In this case, if you are in stable condition and able to travel sitting upright, seats can be reserved in Business Class for you and an accompanying flight doctor who is able to provide emotional support and medical care if needed during the flight.

If you can’t travel sitting upright but are able to travel lying down, seats can be removed from the aircraft to make space for a stretcher. You will then again be accompanied by our medical staff. In this case, a privacy screen will also be installed to ensure you can travel undisturbed by other passengers.

Patient stretcher

Travel in a specialized ambulance aircraft

If your COPD is severe, you will most likely need an ambulance jet.  A private air ambulance comes outfitted with the latest medical equipment which is similar to an ICU and a medical staff to attend to your medical needs while en route. Additionally, a private jet provides room for one accompanying person who you want to travel with you for support during a difficult time. Traveling in a specialized ambulance aircraft will provide you the best possible in-flight medical care with the shortest lead times.

How we calculate cost

Each air ambulance flight is a unique situation in which several factors influence the final cost. Every patient’s particular medical needs are different, and care is taken to ensure we provide the best care for the most affordable price. Some factors we take into account when calculating cost are:

  • The distance covered and route taken
  • The type of air ambulance required
  • The patient’s condition and required medical crew
  • Obtaining permissions and clearance from regulatory bodies
  • Airport landing charges
  • Ground ambulance costs

Contact us

Our priority at Medical Air Service is providing safe, comfortable travel for patients. If you are in need of air ambulance services and are concerned about how your COPD might affect your ability to travel, we are here to help.

Our team is available 24/7 to discuss your options for air ambulance services and help you determine the best choice for your needs, and we can provide you a no-obligation quote. Please contact us:

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