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My wife uses a compression machine to treat lymphedema, which is a result of her breast cancer treatment several years ago. She needs to use the machine almost daily, otherwise her arm swells, which is painful and uncomfortable.

The machine has two parts: (1) a pump contained in a plastic housing that is roughly 12"x12"x6"; (2) a garment that attaches to the pump with a set of hoses.

We are traveling to Beijing later this month, and I'm concerned about making sure that the machine arrives with us. Our plan is to put the whole thing in a suitcase that we will check in with the airline when we arrive at the airport. I have created a note in English and Chinese that explains what the machine is, as well as our contact info and home and hotel addresses, which will be in the suitcase. We are also including the user manual provided by the manufacturer.

In addition to being necessary to keep my wife comfortable and pain-free, the machine is also very expensive (several thousand $).

Also important to note that the machine does not contain a battery or any radiation sources.

I would appreciate input from anyone that is knowledgable, or has experience transporting medical devices in checked luggage. Thanks, in advance.


Update: January 19, 2017

So, after adding notes in English and Chinese to the luggage, and talking to several people at the airline, my wife flew with the device, contained in a suitcase, checked in. We were grateful to find that it arrived in Beijing, no problems!

Story over? Not quite. After all of the effort and anxiety we went through, the device worked one night, then failed to power on after that. So, my wife ended up spending most of the trip without the device, anyway! She had some mild discomfort, but with the aid of manual massage and a compression sleeve, she was mostly ok. We contacted the manufacturer when we returned home and they replaced the device for us, no cost! Whew!

Anyway... thanks to all of you who responded to my question. Safe and happy travels to all.

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First, if it fits in or as a carry-on and you can manage it, I highly recommend you keep it with you. Many airlines will offer a carry-on limit exemption for medical devices though you may have to contact them prior to note the record. This may even get you early boarding if you don't otherwise qualify.

Second, if you must check it, insure it either with the airline or a 3rd party underwriter. You will have to contact you airline to learn with insurance options and procedures they offer.

For the nitpickers, airlines will have different procedures and requirements for transporting medical devices. It is not possible to exhaustively list all of them. Contacting the airlines directly is the only way to get accurate and specific information. This Answer is meant to give OP some general advice and point to some available options for further research.

+1 for having a local language description though it's unlikely you will need it.

It's good to take extra steps the first few times you fly with the device, but it may eventually become quite routine, as in MadHatter's case, where you forego the complications and it becomes just something else you pack.

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    If you're getting it insured pay attention to how long it will take for them to cover a replacement. Ideally you'd want something that would overnight a replacement to your hotel if it gets lost in transit, at the other end a policy that gives the airline a few months to find a lot item before paying out isn't much help since you'll need a replacement from somewhere else in the meantime. – Dan Neely Jun 5 '17 at 17:58
  • As for exceptions for medical stuff--it generally works. However, last week departing PVG they wouldn't even grant the exception for checked medical stuff. – Loren Pechtel Jun 6 '17 at 3:33
  • You might also be able to carry it on if each one of you takes only one part in their bag? In any case while the bilingual note from you would be helpful, I'd add a note from your doctor about the necessity of this equipment and its daily use. While it's not exactly a prescription, it should be helpful should anyone question you about it, try to separate you from it etc. – George M Jun 6 '17 at 23:00
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I quite often fly with a CPAP machine in my checked luggage (and less often as carry-on), and I've never had a problem with it. I will be doing so later today, and don't anticipate any problems (unless the maple syrup in my luggage leaks everywhere, in which case I'm stuffed).

Johns-305's answer is much the best option (+1 from me); when I have to fly with the CPAP as carry-on, I always make sure the airline allows it in addition to my normal cabin baggage allowance, and he's also right that every airline has a different procedure for this. But you did ask if anyone has any experience flying with medical equipment in checked luggage, so I thought I'd say that I have. I can't shed any light on insurance, though, as I don't have any over and above my normal travel insurance cover.

  • Thanks for your feedback. Does your experience also include international travel? – David Jun 5 '17 at 17:19
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    My experiences are entirely related to international travel: I'd never fly inside the UK if I could avoid it, I much prefer trains. I'd take the train to the US if I could! – MadHatter Jun 5 '17 at 17:27
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You need to be aware that you have a risk of about 2 to 3 in 1000 of a bag being lost or delayed. If not having the medical equipment for a few days would be a serious problem, that may be an unacceptably high risk. If so, make arrangements with the airline to carry it on as essential medical equipment.

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    I read that the risk as of 2007 was 6.5 bags per 1000. Also, in this case delay as almost as bad as permanent loss. – stannius Jun 5 '17 at 19:25
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    The risk of delay or loss is much higher if baggage is checked through to a final destination but the flight is not direct. I don't know if that increase is sufficiently high that it means the risk of loosing your baggage is noticeably lower than average if you fly direct. – Martin Bonner Jun 6 '17 at 8:46
  • In support of @MartinBonner's point, I have three times had a suitcase delayed on a connecting flight, but never on a direct flight. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 6 '17 at 8:48
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Because of rating I can not just comment.

But I have flown internationally and took my CPAP as carry on many times with out informing anyone or checking with airline and I have not had problems yet. I have never been asked by security what it is either when it goes through the security scanner.

  • You don't need to inform them of what it is unless it in some way violates the normal rules. (For example, liquids beyond the 311 rule limits.) – Loren Pechtel Jun 6 '17 at 3:35
  • Airport security personnel see CPAP machines all the time. They know what they look like on X-ray. – John R. Strohm Jun 7 '17 at 15:24

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