Ask Professor Bruce: Things No One Will Tell You About Traveling with Your CPAP



I’ve been undergoing CPAP therapy since CPAP machines first started becoming widely available on the market. CPAP is a relatively new technology, so it hasn’t been that long – around 30 years or so – but with any newish technology, there is bound to be unforeseen circumstances that get in the way of effective treatment. Traveling is one of those circumstances. What if you have to travel? – Luckily, I’ve gained a lot of wisdom when it comes to using CPAP on the go – wisdom that I would like to share with you. Here are some things that no one will tell you about traveling with your CPAP.

Keep The Basics Close and Accessible

Global warming, exploding volcanoes, terrorist alert warnings, ebola – there are a lot of things that will delay your flight and keep you either on the tarmac or at the gate for multiple hours. This is why you want to always keep your CPAP machine, hose, and mask in your carry-on. This will ensure that you always have access to CPAP. The last thing you want is to be separated from your CPAP system for too long. If you can’t fit your humidifier in your carry-on, don’t bring it – it will only add more weight. Just remember: keep the basics close and accessible.

CPAP Tips and Tricks for a Long Flight

  • Never ask the flight attendant if you can use your CPAP. If you do, she or he will have to run to the back of the plane and pour through a giant binder of protocols, rules and regulations. This will take forever. The attendant may also have to bother the pilot, which can be uncomfortable. Basically, a CPAP machine has some of the same components of a laptop: namely a fan unit and a computer chip that runs the machine’s software. A CPAP machine may be a little louder, but the general buzz and hum of the plane will drown out much of the sound out. So, when that light comes on and the announcement is made that passengers can turn on their portable electronic devices, you can start using your CPAP machine.
  • A lot of planes aren’t equipped with power outlets. Some are, but you can never rely on them. In some cases, a plane may have outlets, but no power. There is also the risk that the person in the seat next to you will fidget around and knock the cord out of the outlet. This is no way to get adequate CPAP treatment. For this reason, you want to bring a backup battery with you. In my experience, I have found CPAP batteries – like the C-100 – to be beneficial in a number of occasions and scenarios. CPAP batteries can also work wonders when it comes to charging your laptop when you are stuck on the tarmac or in a small regional airport without outlets. I’ve also used CPAP batteries to power my CPAP, and laptop while camping – for multiple days. I hate to admit it, but yes I find camping spots with Wi-Fi access and I will often sneak away to write and reply to emails, much to my wife’s chagrin.
  • On a long flight, you will most likely want to get some shuteye. For this reason, I always try to book a window seat – I can undergo CPAP treatment without anyone tripping over me or my hose and cord. When I am ready to doze off, I simply place the machine and battery on the floor. Again, the sound of the plane’s fuselage pretty much drowns out the sound. After that, I take out the airline provided blanket and get snuggly. Make sure to place your seatbelt over the blanket, because that will prevent the flight attendants from waking you to make sure it is on. Once my seatbelt is secure and I know the CPAP is safe, I will put the mask on and place the blanket over my head – to drown out the sound even further. I have used this method more times that I can count and no one has ever asked any questions or had any concerns – even the person right next me can barely hear the machine.

Pick Up Distilled Water Before You Hit the Hotel

Whenever I get off the plane, my first stop after the baggage claim is to find distilled water for my humidifier. If I didn’t mention it before, I should mention it now: if you bring your humidifier with you, be sure to empty the water out before you put it in your suitcase. But when you get to your destination, you will need to find distilled water to refill it– it can often be difficult to find distilled water near your hotel.

Place Your CPAP Machine in the Nightstand Drawer

When I get to my hotel, I immediately place my CPAP in the nightstand drawer. There are a number of reasons why I don’t put the machine on the floor, or on top of the nightstand. I don’t put the CPAP on the nightstand because it can be easy to accidently yank it off in your sleep – this can often happen when you are in an unfamiliar place and your spatial awareness is off. And I never ever keep the CPAP on the floor because hotels use powerful carpet cleaners and deodorizers that get sucked up into your machine and contaminate the filter. Trust me, your CPAP will smell like a Best Western for multiple weeks.

Make Sure To Bring a Power Strip With You

In many hotel rooms, there is a lack of available outlets – either that or they are all being used by other appliances. This is why I make sure to keep a power strip handy. I try to bring a light power strip with a six-foot cord – something with some distance, but that won’t weigh me down. A power strip will ensure that you have a someplace to plug your CPAP in near the bed. Also, a power strip will protect your CPAP from surges, which can occur when the power goes out and then comes back on again.

Cover Your CPAP If You Are Staying At the Hotel for Multiple Nights

In an added effort to protect your CPAP from deodorizers, cleaning sprays and even furniture polish, you want to use a plastic bag to cover your machine. When you wake up in the morning, simply unplug your CPAP system and place inside the bag. You can then keep the whole unit inside the drawer – to keep it safe from breakage or any other damage that may occur. You never know what can happen when a busy cleaning crew comes through.

 Use An Auto-Titrating CPAP Machine When You Leave Town

No matter if you are traveling for business purposes, or going on a rare vacation, there is a good chance that you are spending a lot of money on airfare, hotel accommodations and more. This is exactly why getting an excellent night of sleep is so important. For this reason, I highly recommend investing in an auto-titrating CPAP machine. Auto-titrating CPAP machines, or APAPs, as they are sometimes called, adjust the pressure setting automatically. They do this by using an algorithm that responds to breathing patterns, body movements and more. In the instance of getting CPAP on an overnight flight, an APAP will be able to give you the ideal pressure setting according to the atmospheric conditions of the plane’s cabin. Moreover, when I travel, I tend to get a stuffy nose – an auto-titrating machine adjusts perfectly to my nasal congestion. Not only that, but an APAP system will also adjust to different altitude changes as well. All in all, an auto-titrating system is the perfect travel companion for sleep apnea sufferers.

As you can see, I have developed a lot of tips and tricks when it comes to treating my obstructive sleep apnea while traveling. Indeed, leaving town can already present a number of unforeseen circumstances,­ but as long as you stick to CPAP and take measures to make compliance more comfortable – in the air or in unfamiliar hotel rooms – you will get much better sleep and your trip will be so much more enjoyable. In the end, it is important to know: don’t leave home without your CPAP, whatever you do.