NEW YORK -- Kathleen Hart of Succasunna, N.J., is a registered
nurse, so when she decided to take her oxygen-dependent mother on a
family Caribbean vacation, she knew not to leave anything to
Anyone who doubts the wisdom of preplanning and double-checking
when traveling with someone with a disease such as emphysema should
hold his or her nose and try breathing through a straw.
That is the level of difficulty with which Hart's mother,
Eleanor Sinsimer, draws her breath, despite the oxygen that flows
through the nasal cannula she wears day and night. Even with her
medical background, Hart said she was floundering when it came to
making the arrangements.
Months earlier, when Hart had made the initial bookings for air
and sea, her mother had not been on oxygen full-time. Two months
before the February trip, Sinsimer's situation worsened, resulting
in changes to Hart's well-thought-out plans.
To begin with, the flight to Puerto Rico, where Hart and her
mother would board Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess, had been booked
on Continental. As it turned out, Continental only provides oxygen
on flights within the 50 states, and it is against federal
regulations to bring on board an oxygen tank from home.
Moreover, Hart needed to find a medical supplier in San Juan who
could meet the plane with an oxygenator and a week's supply of
portable canisters. (Cruise ships do not supply oxygen equipment.)
But Hart's contacts in New Jersey could provide only a list of U.S.
companies. "It was a little over a month before we had to leave,
and I couldn't find anybody," Hart said. "If I had had a guide, it
would have been a whole lot easier."
In desperation, Hart put in a call to Bonnie Furlong of Creative
Meetings and Incentives in Denver, an agent Hart had come to know
through her husband's business travel. "Bonnie really helped us,"
Hart said. "She did everything she could for us."
It was fortunate for Hart that Furlong had arranged a Princess
cruise for a woman with emphysema once before and had some
experience upon which to draw.
Furlong switched the family to American Airlines. "American was
the only airline going to Puerto Rico that would take oxygen,"
Furlong arranged for oxygen and a nonstop flight, an important
detail because the airline provides oxygen only on the plane, not
in the airport. Moreover, the $75 cost (about average) becomes $150
when the passenger changes planes because the oxygen must be
supplied anew on each aircraft.
Next, Furlong called Oxycare, a medical supply company in Puerto
Rico with English-speaking representatives that would rent the
equipment and deliver it to the airport for $645.
Hart and her family left for Newark Airport Feb. 20 after making
one more call to confirm the order for oxygen. "I was told the
[request for] oxygen was in the computer," Hart said. And it was in
the computer, but it was not preboarded on the plane as it should
have been. Furlong said, "All the information was in there, but
somehow it didn't get sent through the proper channels."
Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman, called Hart's
experience "a rare occurrence." Smith said a disabled traveler
booking on American should follow this procedure: Call the
reservations office, ask to speak to the Special Assistance
coordinator and explain the need. If unable to speak directly to
the coordinator, book the flight and ask for a call back.
"Do it well ahead of time," Smith added. (A minimum of 48 hours'
notice is required for oxygen.) "Special Assistance will call back
within 48 hours if the travel is within 30 days. Otherwise, it will
call back 60 days out and explain the procedures and what will take
place aboard the aircraft," said Smith.
In Hart's case, the airline delayed the flight for the family
and provided the oxygen in short order, Hart said.
Oxycare met the family at the airport in San Juan. "They were
wonderful," Hart said.
The cruise was smooth sailing until the fifth day, when Hart's
mother developed a respiratory infection. She spent the last night
of the cruise in the infirmary, where she was tended to by a doctor
and two nurses. "They were excellent with me," Sinsimer said.
"Somebody was there all night long, just like a regular
The cost of hospitalization is not included in the price of the
cruise. Further, Medicare will not cover health care provided by
foreign vessels, and neither will some private insurance
Hart had taken additional insurance through Travel Assure, but
her mother's HMO Medicare, Physicians Health Services, did cover
the bill. Travel Assure, which is offered through travel agencies,
also covers trip interruptions, cancellations and lost baggage.
By the time the ship arrived in San Juan, Hart's mother was well
enough to fly home. Hart said she called ahead to confirm that the
oxygen would be on board the plane, and "everyone I spoke to told
me not to worry. It's in the computer."
"It was really funny," said Hart.
American Association for Respiratory Care
Phone: (972) 243-2272
Breathin' Easy Travel Guide
Phone: (707) 252-9333
Web: www.oxygen4transport .com
Phone: (787) 269-5300