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Alert: New Air Regs
Air travelers using respiratory equipment must follow new labeling regulations -- or risk losing their seats

Travelers with respiratory difficulties who use commercial airlines need to be aware of a new labeling requirement for ventilators, respirators, positive airway pressure devices (i.e., CPAP, BiPAP) and personal oxygen concentrators.

Trying to travel without following the new regulations can result in being denied a seat, or being required to turn off the respiratory equipment during the flight. The new rule is from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and relates to existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

Equipment must be labeled

Effective May 13, DOT’s rule “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel” applies to passenger aircraft with seating capacity of 19 or more.

The regulation “…requires U.S. carriers to permit individuals to use electronic respiratory assistive devices in the passenger cabin so long as the devices have been tested and labeled by their manufacturer(s) as meeting the applicable FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requirements for medical portable electronic devices…”.

The absence of a label on a passenger’s respiratory equipment is sufficient reason for airlines to refuse the person a seat on the plane. However, according to the new DOT rule, if the label is present (and other qualifying conditions are met), the carrier must allow the passenger to board.

Extra power supply may be required

The FAA allows airlines to require respiratory-equipment users to have enough battery power to operate the equipment for at least 150 percent of the anticipated maximum flight time. If passengers can’t show they have enough power to last that amount of time, an airline can refuse to let them board.

In addition, some airlines may require that passengers flying with respiratory equipment provide notice to the airlines at least 48 hours in advance, and that they show up at the gate one hour earlier than normal boarding time so airline staff can ensure the equipment is properly labeled.

Passengers should check with their specific air carrier well in advance of their flights to learn what is required.

Not the airlines’ job

DOT says the airlines are responsible for making sure every device on the aircraft meets FAA standards for electromagnetic and radio frequency interference emissions, but they aren’t responsible for conducting the physical tests on a device to ensure those standards are met.

The agency will not require “carriers or any other entity to produce a central list of approved or disapproved devices.”

The bottom line: Responsibility falls to respiratory-equipment users to obtain appropriate labels for their equipment, certifying that the equipment meets standards.

The full text of the May 13 DOT rule and frequently asked questions about the ruling are posted on the DOT site.