If you need a CPAP machine—a device commonly used to treat sleep apnea—you need it when you travel as well as when you’re at home. Fortunately, travel with a CPAP machine doesn’t have to be a problem, but it’s easier with some devices than others.
Travel with a CPAP Machine: Essential Tips
Below are general guidelines to ensure smooth travel with a CPAP machine.
Getting Through Security with a Travel CPAP Machine
Federal law requires that travelers be able to take and use medical devices on airplanes, and the TSA enforces that law. The TSA’s policy on medical devices is clear: “Individuals with disabilities or medical conditions, who use medical devices should not think of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint as a barrier to travel. It’s okay to bring along a CPAP machine or breast pump.”
When you fly, keep your CPAP machine with you, either in a separate bag—which does not count against your baggage allowance—or in your carry-on baggage. Do not check a CPAP machine; devices in checked baggage are subject to delay, damage, or theft. And do not leave any water in the humidifier.
Because it’s in your carry-on, it needs to be inspected. Travel with a CPAP device may delay the screening process a bit: TSA agents will put it through the X-ray system, and they may make a detailed visual check or test the device for possible explosives. It may be useful to carry a copy of your doctor’s CPAP prescription.
Using a Travel CPAP Machine in Flight
Airlines must allow you to use a medically necessary device while you’re flying. However, some of them require advance notice; check with your airline for particulars.
If CPAP device runs on electricity, keep in mind that the availability of at-seat power depends on the specific airline and plane model. Some planes provide household power (110 or 240 AC volts) at individual seats; others provide “laptop” five-volt DC power; many provide neither. On some planes, at-seat power is limited to business, first, or premium economy cabins.
Even if your plane has power, you might have to share a plug with other travelers, and the current draw for a typical CPAP machine is high enough that the plane’s power might be inadequate. If you know your airline and airplane, SeatGuru (SmarterTravel’s sister site) lists at-seat power availability.
A better solution is to avoid the need for electrical power by using a battery pack. Packs are available for many CPAP devices, but if you don’t have one and travel a good bit, or if your current device is big and heavy, you might want to consider buying a small travel CPAP machine, with battery, to use on your trips. Check out a list of travel CPAP machines at CPAP.com.
However it’s powered, make sure your machine has a setting that prevents any sort of beeps or other audio signals.
CPAP Travel: At Your Destination
Americans will have no problem using a CPAP machine in the U.S., where their regular power cord will work just fine. But in foreign countries that use 240-volt, 50-cycle current, you have to make sure your device will work.
These days, most small electronic devices use “switching” power supplies that can accept any voltage between 100 and 240 volts, and either a 50- or 60-cycle current. Check your device to be sure. You’ll need an adapter for a U.S. plug, or you can buy a separate power cord for your destination’s current.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.