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Can Medical Material Be Carried
Aboard An Aircraft?

By on August 24, 2019

By Bob & Sandy Nesoff

Letters, we get letters. Reader Richard asked us a darn good question and we had to stop and do some research to answer him. Richard wrote:

Dear Bob & Sandy:

In a recent column regarding items restricted that the TSA will confiscate, a question was raised. I am one of many people who use a C-Pap (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine). The device uses distilled water to humidify the air breathed by the patient. My experiences are that the smallest distilled water containers are gallon bottles. Sterile water comes in 500 milliliter bottles.

Before the current regulations I was able to carry a sealed 500 milliliter bottle along with my C-Pap machine in a bag noting that it contained medical equipment. I consider that water to be a medical necessity.

My question is: considering the stringent rules regarding the total amounts of liquid air passengers can carry, can I transport one small factory sealed bottle of sterile water or would TSA seize it, thus forcing me to use tap water of whatever country I’d be vacationing in? I would dispose of both the bottle and leftover contents on the return before heading to the airport.

Richard that was a terrific question and one we should have addressed. To make sure that we were correct we contacted several airlines to determine what the policy for carrying such liquids was. Almost unanimously the answer was the same. We found out the hard way that even though a liquid item may be in factory sealed container, you are going to lose it. That happened to us with a very expensive bottle of wine. The TSA agent who confiscated it had a gleam in his eye as he placed it atop the scanner and not in the bin with other confiscated items. We were sure he had a pleasant repast at his evening meal.

You can bring a C-Pap machine on board an aircraft so long as it either fits in the overhead bin or under the seat. Otherwise it must be checked at the counter. Virtually every airline had reasonable policies regarding medically necessary equipment and they take steps to accommodate that.

Such machines as C-Pap may not be used on board the aircraft because, obviously fluid must be present and that’s a no-no. The distilled or sterile water must be placed in either a separate container or within your checked luggage. Since C-Pap machines are commonly used while asleep, it should not pose a problem while in flight. Even on longer flights, such as the one we recently took from the United States to China and back, the 16 to 18 hours permit you to nap but you’ll have to do it without the C-Pap.

Be aware that some airlines will require a 48-hour advance notification before coming on board with distilled water even though it is being checked with luggage. A strong suggestion-make sure the container is secure and will not be broken as the baggage handlers do their best to destroy whatever they are placing on or off the aircraft.

To show that such things are accommodated we included in the airlines we questioned was our least favorite, Spirit Airlines. Surprisingly Spirit’s policy was pretty much in line with the others we spoke with. That’s a fair indicator of how the industry seeks to work with people needing medical devices.

That being said, we can’t urge you more strongly to make sure you contact your individual airline well before flight time to determine its individual policy. Do not show up at the airport and expect to be accommodated if its policy is contrary to what we’ve said here.

Richard, again, thank you for a very important question and we hope that answers you. We are always open to clarifying anything we’ve written about. So don’t hesitate to write. All letters will be forwarded from the newspaper to us.