Air travel


If you are flying there may be some things that you need to consider.

Before you leave

Fitness to fly

Depending on the severity of your asthma, you might need a fitness to fly test to see if you are able to cope with reduced cabin pressure. As a rough guide, if you are unable to walk for 50 metres without feeling breathless or needing to stop, you may not be able to cope with reduced cabin pressure. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse, to see if they think that you should be assessed.

You may be referred for a 'hypoxic challenge' test. This will predict how well you would be able to cope with the conditions in an aircraft cabin, and advise whether you need in-flight oxygen. Your doctor or asthma nurse will know how to refer you. It is up to your GP as to whether they charge you for this service.

Nebulisers on planes

Most airlines will not permit medical equipment such as nebulisers to be used on board if they need a mains supply but will accept the use of battery operated ones. If you need to use a nebuliser during the flight it is important to contact the airline to get permission to do so. Some airlines will ask for printed information on the flight safety of the device, (you can get this from the manufacturer). You will not be able to use a nebuliser during take off and landing. Using an inhaler with a spacer could be an alternative for you, and has been shown to be as effective as a nebuliser - ask your GP or nurse about this. 

In-flight oxygen

If tests show that your usual blood oxygen levels are so low that air travel may be a problem for you, you may still be able to travel by air, if oxygen is provided for you. Airlines can arrange extra oxygen, but most will charge. Different airlines have different charges, so check with them before you arrange your flight.

Arrangements for oxygen must be made by you or your travel agent if possible when booking your ticket, but at least one month before your trip. Do not assume that planes will have oxygen on board. They carry emergency supplies but not enough for several hours.

Assistance at the airport

New European regulations guarantee rights for people who are disabled or have mobility difficulties. The airport authorities have a responsibility to provide assistance at the airport and the airline you are travelling with has responsibility when you are on board the aircraft. Even if you are fairly mobile, there can be long distances to walk within airports and you may wish to consider taking the help available to you. If you are unable to climb the stairs into the aircraft there are lifts available to assist you.

You need to inform the airline of your needs at least 48 hours before you fly to ensure you receive the help you require, and ideally try to let them know when you book your flight. Be sure to book assistance for both of you if you have a carer or someone travelling with you so you can stay together. Airports have help points  in various locations where you can call for help even if you have not pre- arranged it. Help carrying reasonable amounts of luggage can be provided free of charge. You can check on each airport's website or telephone for details, but help points are usually located:

• in long and short stay car parks

• on departure drop off zones

• within the terminal itself, in stations, baggage reclaim halls and along some routes where there are long walking distances.

Hand luggage

It is usually best to carry all your medicines with you in your hand luggage, in case your checked luggage goes missing or your medicines are damaged in the baggage hold.

However, during current tightening of security and hand baggage restrictions, the Department for Transport has advised that you can only take up to 100ml of liquid creams or gels, and up to 50g of powder or tablets. Most asthma inhalers do not specify how much liquid medicine is contained within them (they are often measured in puffs or doses), but as a guide most inhalers contain approximately 10-20ml of liquid.

You are allowed to carry essential prescription medicines (including inhalers) but you will need:

  • prior agreement of the airline with which you are travelling and your departure airport.
  • You must bring supporting documentation from your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Other things to remember when packing your luggage:

  • Always carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you.
  • When you are travelling always carry a spare reliever inhaler (usually blue) in your hand luggage, in case you run out or your checked-in baggage goes missing.
  • All asthma medicines taken on board an aircraft should have the prescription label and contact details of the pharmacy clearly shown.
  • All medicines in your hand luggage should be placed in a clear plastic bag.
  • When checking in, and at the security check, inform staff of your need to carry your asthma medicines with you and in your hand luggage.
  • You may be asked to taste your asthma medicines in front of airport staff in order to verify that they are genuine. Taking a one-off extra dose of any of your asthma medicines is not a problem. However, this does not replace your next dose and you should continue to take your asthma medicines when you normally would.
  • If you can, carry a note from your doctor explaining why you need to take the medicines on board or, if this is not possible, carry a prescription of each of your medicines with your name on it.

Checked in luggage

  • Ideally you should carry all your asthma medicines in your hand luggage. However, if you do need to pack some of your asthma medicines in your checked-in luggage, inform check-in staff that your luggage contains asthma medicines that can freeze at altitude and become less effective. Ask check-in staff for your luggage to be placed in the heated area of the hold.

For more information visit the Department for Transport website at dft.gov.uk, and the BAA (the UK's main airport company) website at baa.co.uk.

Or for further information, call your airline directly.

More information

More information about help available to you at airports can be found at:

equalityhumanrights.com/airtravel

airportguides.co.uk


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