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Pre-flight oxygen assessment

What is a pre-flight oxygen test?

A pre-flight oxygen test will see how well your child’s body will adapt to a flight.

Why is this assessment necessary?

Plane cabins are pressurised to between 5,000 to 8,000 feet, which means that the pressure of oxygen inside the plane is lower than what we breathe normally. As a result of the lower oxygen levels, most people will have lower oxygen saturation, meaning less oxygen travels around the body. This is normally ok in healthy individuals. However, people with heart and breathing problems may have some trouble.

Children who have been on oxygen within the last 12 months, have needed in-flight oxygen before, or those with past breathing problems will need a pre-flight oxygen test. Ask your doctor if your child requires a test prior to booking your flight.

What does an assessment involve?

The pre-flight oxygen test will help see how well your child will cope with the lower oxygen levels in the aircraft cabin.

The test takes place in a large glass cabin (the body box in the respiratory function lab) that creates an environment like being on a plane. The child sits inside the cabin for 20 minutes with a ‘pulse oximetry probe’ attached to a finger or toe to measure oxygen saturation levels. Your child can take toys or phones inside to have something to do throughout the test. Parents or carers can sit inside with younger children.

Nasal prongs will be fitted at the beginning of the test. If needed, oxygen will be provided via the nasal prongs while staying in the cabin.

How long will it take?

The assessment takes about 45 minutes, however, we would advise you to allow 1 hour for any delays.

What to bring along?

You may wish to bring along a favourite toy, book or electronic game which can be a distraction during the test. It can get hot inside the cabin, so if you need to sit inside the cabin with your child, you may wish to wear light clothing.

The results will be sent back to your consultant, who will contact you with a report.

What happens if my child requires in-flight oxygen?

If it is shown that your child needs oxygen for the flight it will be up to you to inform your airline and insurance company, and you will have to arrange an oxygen supply.

Some airlines will provide oxygen for the journey, but you will need to speak to them and find out what flow and rates they provide. Oxygen can be supplied either constantly or pulsed. Small children can only have continuous flow as they don’t take deep enough breaths to trigger the pulsed flow.

If the airline doesn’t provide suitable oxygen, you will need to hire the equipment. The equipment provided is usually a portable concentrator as many airlines don’t allow cylinders in the cabin.

How do I arrange in-flight oxygen?

A company that has been used by other families is Pure O2, based in Manchester.

Website: www.healthoxygen.com
Telephone: 0161 747 2617 (UK 9 to 5pm)

The cost is different depending on how long the flight is and the type of equipment required but can be a few hundred pounds.

They will arrange delivery and show you how to use the equipment.

The airline will need a medical form from the consultant usually in the month before travel.

Contact us

If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact:

Respiratory Function Lab
0114 271 7369

Home oxygen CNS:
07831 619 672


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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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