Traveling with Your CPAP Machine: A Comprehensive Guide
By Lily - Registered Respiratory Therapist
A CPAP machine is an expensive piece of medical equipment, and many people choose to leave their machines at home when they travel because they are either wary of losing/damaging them or they think it is too much trouble.
While traveling with a CPAP machine requires some extra preparation, waking up refreshed and energized to enjoy your vacation makes the extra effort worth it.
How Do I Pack My Machine?
Most newer CPAP machines come with a fabric travel case with padded compartments to protect them and keep all the accessories organized. You should have no problem fitting your machine, power supply, and mask in your travel bag, although it may be a tight fit if you use a full face mask.
If you have an older machine, your carry bag may not have compartments, so you would have to place your mask and tubing on top of your machine inside the bag.
If you’re one of those people who prefer each item to have its own place, you’d want to look into upgrading your carry bag. No one wants to spend time untangling their power cord from their mask at the hotel.
What Should I Bring?
You will want to bring extra mask cushions, connectors and cleaning supplies for your mask and tubing. There is always the small chance of mask cushions tearing or getting lost during travel. The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination only to find you can’t use your CPAP because of a torn mask.
The same applies to elbow connectors that connect the mask to your tubing. You should be able to fit these extra items in one of the compartments in your CPAP travel bag or a side pouch.
It’s a good idea to pack some mask wipes too, especially if the thought of washing your mask on vacation sounds punishing. Masks wipes are alcohol free and designed to be used on silicone.
I recommend taking your mask apart before using the wipes on it to make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies with the wipes. Try to stick to your usual cleaning routine even though it will be harder on vacation.
You may also want to bring some distilled water if you use a humidifier. If you’re traveling by car within the US and Canada, you can purchase distilled water at pharmacies so you probably don’t need to bring more than one night’s worth of distilled water. Depending on your CPAP machine, that will be around 16 oz. If you are traveling by air or sea, please see the sections below for more information.
I am Traveling Overseas: Do I Need a Converter, Transformer or Adapter?
Most CPAP machines are dual voltage and will work in other countries that do not use the US standard 120V. Checking your machine’s voltage is easy - just look at the label on the AC adapter, and it should tell you the voltage.
For instance, if you see INPUT AC 100V - 240V, then your machine will work in countries that use 220V. If your machine is not dual voltage, then you will, unfortunately, need a transformer.
Converters are recommended for electric products only and should not be used for more than a few hours continuously. Transformers can be used with electronics (eg. computers) and can be used continuously for days.
It is safer to use a transformer with a CPAP machine, but transformers are bulky, and you have to make sure you get the right one. Transformers differ based on the wattage they can support.
So, before buying a transformer, make sure you know how many watts your machine uses. You can find this information in the user manual or on the AC adapter label. A typical CPAP machine uses 30-60 watts.
If you find yourself traveling often and have a single voltage machine, it may be time for an upgrade. Practically all home units are dual voltage now, so you are not limited to only travel CPAP machines.
If your machine is dual voltage, you don’t need to worry about a converter. All you need to do is figure out the type of plug the destination country uses and purchase a plug adapter, if needed. If you travel often, it’s a good idea to purchase an all-in-one travel adapter with multiple plug types.
Flying with a CPAP Machine
You can bring your CPAP machine on the plane as a carry-on. It is a medical device, so it does not count towards your carry-on limit. If you check on the back or bottom of your CPAP machine, you will see it labeled as a medical device.
You can also label your carry bag with a medical device identification luggage tag for airport security. TSA will ask you to open up your CPAP bag and may search it for traces of explosives.
If you think it is a hassle to lug your CPAP machine on board, think of how terrible your flight would be if you spent the entire time worrying about your machine getting damaged in checked baggage! Bringing your machine on the plane as a carry-on gives you peace of mind that is well worth the hassle.
In addition to packing your mask, tubing, extra mask cushions, and connectors, you will also want to bring along a copy of your prescription and/or a note of medical necessity from your doctor in case the airline or TSA asks for it.
Q: How do you sleep on a plane with a CPAP machine?
A: Always check with the Airline you are using for this information. Some allow you to plug in your CPAP while others require you to have a battery.
Using a CPAP Machine in Flight
Different airlines have different regulations on in-flight CPAP use, and I recommend visiting the airline’s website or contacting them for the most up-to-date information.
Questions to ask are:
- Can I use my CPAP machine in flight? If yes, can I plug it into the seat or will I need a battery?
- How much battery life do I need?
- Is there a specific medical necessity form I need to have my doctor fill out and sign in addition to my prescription?
- Do I need to give advance notice that I am bringing a CPAP machine?
Some airlines, such as United Airlines, require passengers who will be using CPAP machines in flight to give their Accessibility Desk a minimum of 48 hrs advanced notice. Other airlines do not require passengers to give advance notice.
You also want to clarify with the airline if you can plug in your CPAP machine to the airplane’s in seat electrical power. Delta Airlines, for example, do not allow passengers to plug in their CPAP machines on board. They require passengers to make sure they have enough battery life to last them 150% of their total flight time regardless of how long they plan to use their CPAP on the plane.
Q: How long do CPAP batteries last?
A: Batteries last the longest when used with the heated humidifier and heated tubing turned OFF. It will also depend on the pressure setting - the higher the pressure setting the more battery life it is going to use. All CPAPs and Concentrators last different lengths of time based on your pressures or Liters per minute. For battery life, generally, it's 1-2 years if fully charged every 3 months.
Q: How long will a deep cycle battery run a CPAP?
A: This will vary depending on your pressure setting and comfort settings on your machine as well as the make and model of the machine.
It goes without saying that passengers need to make sure their CPAP machine and battery is FAA compatible. If you are flying internationally, please contact your airline.
Can I Bring Distilled Water On My Flight?
Anyone who’s ever flown within or to the US knows that TSA has strict rules on how much liquid you can bring on the plane. Distilled water is exempt from the 3-1-1 rule (3.4 ounces of liquids in containers that fit in 1 clear quart sized bag, 1 bag per passenger) since TSA allows for medically necessary liquids in excess of 3.4 ounces.
It is recommended to clearly label your distilled water and inform a TSA agent you are carrying distilled water for your CPAP machine. Remember to remove the water so it can be screened separately.
Cruising with a CPAP Machine
Most ocean cruise lines operate on standard US current, but it is a good idea to contact your cruise line to confirm this. Cruise lines may ask passengers to fill out a “Guest Special Needs” form after booking, and this can usually be found on their website.
Some cruise lines will provide distilled water and an extension cord in the stateroom upon request while others will just provide them if they know you are bringing a CPAP machine. You can also just ask your stateroom attendant for an extension cord and distilled water once on board.
If you will be going on a more localized cruise (eg. European river cruise, Nile River cruise), please contact your cruise line to confirm the voltage and whether you will need to bring adapters.
Please carry your CPAP machine on board the ship because it can take a few hours before your checked luggage arrives at your stateroom. You will need to go through security with your machine just like if you are at the airport but you can keep your shoes on since TSA will not be screening you.