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Flying with pulmonary fibrosis: your options

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Flying with pulmonary fibrosis: your options

Hardening and scarring of the lung tissue – also known as pulmonary fibrosis – affects the performance of the lungs. Shortness of breath and coughing are among the most common symptoms, and the patient’s overall physical stamina decreases. As the air in the passenger cabin of a scheduled airliner is thinner than at ground level, problems can be exacerbated during a flight. While healthy passengers can cope with the lower air pressure and the lower oxygen content of the air, lungs that are already weakened by fibrosis are put under even greater strain. Therefore, if a patient has pulmonary fibrosis, it is not advisable for them to board a flight without taking special precautionary measures. We will explain your options here.

Pulmonary fibrosis

Can a patient with pulmonary fibrosis take a scheduled flight?

In severe cases, pulmonary fibrosis patients require additional oxygen even when they are still on the ground, and cannot do without it during the flight. Other patients may be able to manage without additional oxygen outside the aircraft, but due to the thinner air on board, additional oxygen must be available for them at least for the duration of the flight. But this is where the most important problem arises for patients with pulmonary fibrosis on scheduled flights: bottles containing liquid oxygen are classified as dangerous goods and therefore must not be taken on board a scheduled aircraft.

In addition to this general rule, different regulations apply to alternatives to liquid oxygen, depending on the airline. Some airlines allow pressurised cylinders of pure oxygen or an oxygen concentrator on board, others avoid this complex issue and prohibit the carrying of oxygen in the passenger cabin, making a scheduled flight impossible for many patients with pulmonary fibrosis.

Fit to fly

A certain amount of bureaucracy is necessary in advance of the flight for every patient with health issues. If the patient has a severe health condition, the airline assesses the patient's fitness to fly on the basis of their records. For this purpose, the passenger must submit medical documents for review – preferably weeks before the actual flight. The airline then decides whether the patient is ‘fit to fly’.

However, even a positive decision is not a guarantee. If, on the day of the flight, the captain considers that it is not justifiable to take the patient on board for medical reasons, he or she may refuse carriage. This is especially true when the patient's condition is worse than how it was represented in the medical documents that were submitted.

Medical escorts

If a patient needs medical assistance during their scheduled flight, we will be happy to provide this service. In such cases, a paramedic or a doctor serves as a medical escort. The medical professional travels with the patient and carries emergency medical equipment. This allows them to intervene at any time, if necessary.

Especially for patients with pulmonary fibrosis, we recommend that the patient and medical escort fly Business Class. There is enough room to move freely here if intervention is actually required. In addition, the seat positions are more flexible and the backrest can be moved to the exact position where breathing is easiest for the patient.

Always an option: an ambulance aircraft

An ambulance aircraft is always a good alternative for patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Ambulance aircraft are most often used in the following cases:

  • when the patient has an acute condition or disease in addition to the pulmonary fibrosis, so that it becomes necessary to transport the patient by air.
  • if the airline has refused to take the patient on board
  • If the flight has to be organised so quickly that there is no time for the bureaucratic procedures of the scheduled airline.

Compared to a scheduled flight, an ambulance aircraft offers the advantage that there is always enough medical oxygen on board to support the patient's breathing. In addition, the flight is accompanied by a doctor who monitors his patient’s oxygen saturation and other vital signs and can intervene immediately if there are any complications.

The medical equipment in an ambulance aircraft is similar to the equipment in a modern intensive care unit, so that even severely ill patients can receive the best possible care at all times. In addition, ambulance aircraft can also take off and land at small airports and thus can land much closer to the destination of the sick passenger.

Also, relevant in times of the Coronavirus pandemic is the fact that the patient shares the aircraft only with the medical team and any accompanying persons. There are no other passengers and the patient does not have to check in at the busy passenger terminal. This minimises the risk of infection – an important argument for patients with pulmonary fibrosis, who are already at risk because of their particular illness.

Beneficial Cabin Pressure Adjustment

In particularly severe cases, the ambulance aircraft has another option available – a sea-level flight. This involves making a cabin pressure adjustment for the benefit of the patient, so that the conditions in the cabin are more similar to those on the ground. The air pressure is higher and the air is therefore richer in oxygen. This makes breathing easier for patients with pulmonary fibrosis and reduces the requirement for additional oxygen.

How much does an ambulance flight cost?

The costs of an ambulance flight are made up of various individual factors and therefore always depend on each particular case. The flight route and the health status of the patient play an especially important role in this. But the desired number of accompanying persons, the chosen aircraft type and the urgency of the enquiry can also influence the price. We will be happy to discuss your case with you and will calculate the costs for your ambulance flight without obligation.

Contact us now for your ambulance flight

Our 24-hour service is available to provide you with a free consultation or a non-binding estimate for your medical transport at any time – even for patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Please do not hesitate to contact our experienced international team today:

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