Respiratory Equipment: Air Travel Nightmare

No clear way for air travelers to comply with new respiratory equipment rule results in frustration and canceled vacations

by Quest Staff on June 25, 2009 - 4:34pm

A May 13 ruling from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proving a headache for manufacturers of respiratory equipment and a frustration for commercial air travelers who rely on ventilators, respirators, positive airway pressure devices such as CPAP and BiPAP, or personal oxygen concentrators.

The DOT ruling says that in order to use any respiratory equipment aboard a commercial airline, the equipment must bear a manufacturer’s label stating that it meets Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety requirements pertaining to electromagnetic emissions. If the label isn’t displayed on the equipment, airlines can deny boarding or refuse to allow use of the equipment during flight.

Michael Luber, 46, of Thiensville, Wis., and his brother Scott learned about the new ruling the hard way, when they had to cancel a vacation to Las Vegas after being denied travel on Air Tran Airlines.  The brothers, who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy and use PLV-100 vents, were told they couldn’t board, or else couldn’t use their respiratory equipment during takeoff and landing, because the vents didn’t have the required FAA label. The Lubers used their vents on two other Air Train Airlines flights prior to the ruling.

Unfortunately, the labeling requirement seems to have caught the respiratory equipment industry by surprise.  Neither the industry nor individual manufacturers have issued clear guidelines for respiratory equipment users to follow to obtain the necessary label.

A marketing representative at Pulmonetic Systems of Minneapolis told MDA that she was aware of the May 13 ruling, but the company, which manufactures ventilators, has not yet developed a plan of action for dealing with the situation. She said Pulmonetic Systems, in dealing with the FAA, cannot get information to determine what specific language should be on the required labels.

ResMed, of Poway, Calif., which makes CPAPs and other respiratory devices, is in a similar quandary.  “I wish I could say we had a 1-800 number that people could call to get instructions, but we don’t,” said ResMed marketing rep Drew Terry. ResMed tech teams are working on a solution, he said.

FAA spokeswoman Nancy Claussen affirmed that the required equipment labels are not widely available.

Claussen said DOT went ahead with launching its May 13 ruling because there were other beneficial aspects of the rule, such as addressing the use of service animals on flights. She said the current confusion will have to be resolved by the airlines and manufacturers.

In its June 19 online newsletter, the International Ventilator Users Network (IVUN) advises respiratory equipment users to contact their manufacturers about getting a label, and has posted a list of manufacturer contact information on its Web site.

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