The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

1998 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF ARRANGING IN-FLIGHT OXYGEN ABOARD COMMERCIAL AIR TRAVELERS.

Ed Hoisington, RRT, James K. Stoller. M. D., Glenn Auger, RRT, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, Ohio.

Introduction: As air travel has become more commonplace in today's society, so too has air travel by oxygen-dependent individuals. Because there is little oversight or standardization of in-flight oxygen by the Federal Aviation Administration, individual airlines' policies and practices may vary greatly. On the premise that such variation may cause confusion by prospective air travelers, we undertook the current study to describe individual air carriers' policies and practices and to provide guidance to future air travelers.

Methods: Data were collected by a series of telephone calls placed by the study investigators to all commercial air carriers listed in the 1997 Cleveland Metropolitan Yellow Pages. The callers were registered respiratory therapists who identified themselves as inexperienced oxygen-requiring travelers wishing to arrange in flight oxygen for an upcoming trip. Standard questions were asked of each carrier which included: Did the carrier have a special "help desk" to assist with oxygen arrangements? What oxygen systems, liter flow options, and interface devices were available? What was the cost of oxygen? How was the cost determined? What documentation from the physician was required? How much notification was required by the airline before the actual flight? In addition to recording these responses, the total amount of time spent on the telephone by the caller was logged along with the number of telephone calls and number of people spoken to in arranging in-flight oxygen. To compare oxygen costs between airlines, we calculated costs based on a "standard trip", which was defined as a non-stop, round-trip lasting 6 hours in which the traveler used a flow rate of 2 liters per minute.

Results: Of the 33 commercial air carriers listed in the directory, 11 were domestic only and 22 were international. Seventy-six percent of the airlines offered in-flight oxygen. For the 25 carriers offering in-flight oxygen, mean phone time required to make the arrangements was 10.2 minutes (range 4-20 minutes). No more than 2 telephone calls were required to make oxygen arrangements. Most carriers required 48-72 hours advance notice, with a single carrier requiring 1 month advanced notice. Most carriers required some notification of oxygen needs by the traveler's physician. There was a great variation in oxygen device and liter flow availability. Liter flow options ranged from only 2 flow rates (36% of carriers) to a range of 1-15 liters per minute (1 carrier). All carriers offered nasal cannula, which was the only device available for 21 carriers (84%). Actual costs for in-flight oxygen also varied greatly. Six carriers supplied oxygen free and 18 carriers charged a fee (range $64.00 to $1,500,00). One airline allowed the traveler to bring one "E" cylinder with no fee assessed. For 14 of the 18 carriers that charged, the cost of the "standard trip" ranged from $100.00 to $200.00.

Conclusions: 1. As expected from the lack of standard regulations, the availability, costs, and ease of implementing in-flight oxygen varies greatly among commercial air carriers. 2. Because the cost of in-flight oxygen is usually borne by the traveler (rather than by insurors), prospective travelers should consider costs of oxygen usage when choosing an airline. 3. We speculate that because such variability exists in an unregulated environment, higher government standards might be considered to reduce arbitrary variation.

The 44th International Respiratory Congress Abstracts-On-DiskĀ®, November 7 - 10, 1998, Atlanta, Georgia.

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